Drought Conditions Expand; Key States Affected

Drought conditions in the US have expanded rapidly in recent weeks, calling into question this year’s agricultural production capabilities.

The latest national Drought Monitor shows that 33% of the country is in some form of drought.  Oklahoma State University agricultural economist Derrell Peel said in the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service “Cow/Calf Corner” that this is the largest moderate and worse drought percentage since October 2015.  Another 28% of the US is abnormally dry.




Total US 2017 hay production was down 2.6% year over year, Peel said.  More troubling are reports that Dec. 1, 2017, total hay stocks were down 10.0%, compared with a year ago.

“Those two factors individually are concerning, and combined should cause the cattle industry to think about potential management implications over the coming weeks/months,” Peel said.

In Oklahoma, 100% of the state is abnormally dry or worse with 845 of the state in some form of drought.  The bulk of the drought is moderate and severe (36% each) with 12% extreme.  There were no Exceptional drought classifications in last week’s report.

Dec. 1 Oklahoma hay stocks were down 15.8% year over year despite a 2.7% increase in statewide hay production from 2016.

Regional hay stocks also were down, with decreased Dec. 1 stocks reported in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas.  New Mexico hay stocks were unchanged, and Colorado reported a 6.1% year-over-year increase.

However, combined hay stocks in the region were down 15.7% on Dec. 1.

Those seven states accounted for 49% of the year-over-year decrease in Dec. 1 US hay stocks.  And, the winter storms and extended cold weather have accelerated regional hay use.




One immediate problem is the lack of growth of winter wheat and other cool-season forages along with the generally poor and deteriorating condition of these pastures, Peel said.  Some cattle have already been removed from pastures and more early marketings are likely in coming weeks.

Another immediate problem is the high wildfire threat that may persist for several more weeks, he said.  Producers have limited ability to avoid wildfires, but any possible preparedness is a good idea.

Thinking farther down the road, producers should plan now for the possibility that current drought conditions will worsen in coming weeks, Peel said.  It’s important to assess forage supplies now and develop management and marketing plans in case drought conditions persist into spring.

Producers know from the 2011 experience how quickly an early-onset drought can become devastating.  Peel urged individual drought contingency planning.  It’s like insurance: you hope you don’t need it, but you can’t afford not to have it.




Cash cattle traded early last week at $118 to mostly $120 per cwt on a live basis, about steady with the bulk of last week’s action, and then at $123 on Friday, up about $3.  On a dressed basis, cattle traded at $192 to $193 early, steady to up $1 and then at $195 on Friday, up $3.

Only 108 cattle traded last Wednesday on the Livestock Exchange video auction at $119.75 per cwt, up $0.75 from the previous week.

The USDA’s choice cutout Tuesday was up $1.78 per cwt at $206.85, while select was up $0.64 at $200.16.  The choice/select spread widened to $6.69 from $5.55 with 78 loads of fabricated product sold into the spot market.

The CME Feeder Cattle index for the seven days ended Monday, was $147.88 per cwt, up $0.34.  This compares with Tuesday’s Jan settlement of $148.62, up $0.72 and Mar’s settlement of $146.97, up $1.15.