OSU's Dr. Derrell Peel on Drought and Forage Conditions


Oklahoma Farm Report

08 Sep 2020


Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist, Dr. Derrell Peel, offers his economic analysis of the beef cattle industry. This analysis is a part of the weekly series known as the "Cow Calf Corner" published electronically by Dr. Peel and Dr. Glenn Selk. Today, Dr. Peel talks about drought and forage conditions.


One-third of the U.S. is in drought, predominantly in the western half of the country. Only about seven percent of the country is in the worst drought categories (D3-D4), but 26 percent is in D1 and D2 drought and another 21 percent of the country is abnormally dry (D0). Table 1 shows the corresponding pasture condition ratings at the end of August. Nationally, 46 percent of the pastures are in poor and very poor condition with just 22 percent in good to excellent condition. The western region (West) has 50 percent of pastures in poor to very poor condition followed closely by the Great Plains (GP) and Southern Plains (SP) each with 42 percent of pastures in poor to very poor condition. At the current time, 41 percent of beef cows are in states that have at least 40 percent poor to very poor pasture conditions, compared to 19 percent one year ago.


There is no doubt that lack of pasture is creating management challenges in the worst drought areas and likely leading to some regional destocking and relocation of cows. However, it is not clear that drought has resulted in significant net herd liquidation thus far. Beef cow slaughter for the year to date is up 3.3 percent year over year but is down fractionally for the past four weeks.


Poor pasture conditions at the end of the grazing season makes the question of hay supplies more critical going into the fall and winter. USDA provided estimates for alfalfa and other hay production in the August Crop Production report. In total, 2020 alfalfa hay production is estimated to be down 5.9 percent year over year with other hay production is down 0.5 percent compared to last year (Table 1). The reduction in alfalfa hay production is generally more important in the northern half of the country and affects both beef and dairy cows.


In the western region, both alfalfa and other hay production are down...