Overall US pasture and range conditions have begun the year in better condition than they were at this time a year ago with the noted exception of California.
Pasture and range conditions in the weekly National Agricultural Statistics Service crop updates are a good indicator of soil moisture and crop health in general. Although the numbers often are overlooked in favor of the more direct crop condition estimates, grass and pasture conditions often decline or improve before crop condition ratings.
And the important numbers are the opposite of what traders and analysts are used to looking at, namely the poor and very poor ratings. Anything else will support at least some grazing and haying.
NASS began tracking pasture and range conditions last week, and the numbers are encouraging. The percent of US grasslands rated poor to very poor are well below last year and the previous five-year average at 12%. Last year the percent rated poor to very poor was 23%, and the average is 19.8%.
A Livestock Marketing Information Center graph shows a seasonal trend for grass and pasture lands to improve into the last week of June and then decline from July into early September as summer heat and dryness sap soil moisture. Some grasses also go dormant during this part of the year, losing much of their nutrient value and their haying and grazing value.
RAINS SHRINK CENTRAL US DROUGHT AREAS
While the Boston area was covered in snow this past winter, the central US did not see the heavy snows that normally soak into the aquifer in the spring. Nonetheless, the Plains have received good rains this spring, aiding planting efforts and reducing the areas of the harshest drought.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weekly drought monitor shows that areas of Texas and Oklahoma that once were deemed to be in the midst of “exceptional” drought, the worst kind, have given way to ratings of “extreme,” “severe” and “moderate” drought. Some areas even are just considered “abnormally dry” or even normal.
NOAA said storm systems last week moved out of the Southwest and into the Plains. Gulf moisture was being funneled into this area, providing the conditions necessary for rain. Last week even saw snow in mountainous areas.
CASH CATTLE QUIET
Cash cattle markets remained quiet Thursday with only a few trades on the fringes of the major cattle-feeding area. So far this week, the USDA is reporting 1,130 steers changing hands at an average price of $159.44 per cwt and 125 heifers at $159.00.
In the major feeding areas, packer buyers were bidding $157 to $158 per cwt on a live basis with offers at $163 to $164. Dressed-basis bids were scarce with asking prices at $258 to $260.
Last week, cattle traded at mostly $161 to $162 live and $256 to $257 dressed.
Beef prices Thursday were higher again, with the USDA reporting its choice cutout at $264.74 per cwt, up $1.57, and the select cutout at $251.31, up $2.20.
The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Wednesday was $219.68 per cwt, up $0.51, compared with the May futures settlement Thursday of $219.25.