Drought receding across most of West
— Southwest conditions worsening.
— Heifer prices could see jump.
Meteorologists and climatologists are on the verge of declaring a majority of the western U.S. drought-free this summer. Sources said there are still some drought-like pockets in the extreme northern Plains, Northwest and parts of the Southwest, however, the Intermountain West, West Coast and central Plains are all in better shape than the previous four or five years.
Cattle market analysts said continued improvement in weather and climate conditions could result in a much larger growth rate in the northern Plains and Intermountain cow herds, and a better calf and feeder cattle market later this summer and fall.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Drought Monitor, as of June 28, the worst situation in the 17 most western states was some D0 to D2 drought conditions. The NOAA data utilizes five classifications of drought with D0 being the least intense and D4 being the most severe. Last year at this same time D3 and D4 areas were noted across the western U.S.
Currently, the worst drought areas are the northeastern third of Wyoming, extreme western Montana, the eastern border of Idaho and central Washington and Oregon. Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Nebraska and the Dakotas are almost entirely free of drought conditions.
The most improvement has been seen over the last six weeks to two months, with most drought-stricken areas seeing monthly precipitation range between three to six inches. Compared to the previous several years, meteorologists said that rainfall is three to five times larger in many western states, particularly Montana, the Dakotas, Colorado, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico.
However, there is cautious optimism concerning the weather outlook come later this summer, into fall.
“Things can change very quickly, particularly right now when temperatures get consistently over 90 degrees and the winds kick up severely,” said Douglas Le Comte, NOAA Climate Prediction Center.
There was more concern that parts of the Southwest, particularly the eastern two-thirds of Texas and southeastern Oklahoma were drying out more than normal, compared to the previous few years.
“Extreme D3 drought developed in northeastern Texas and included adjacent parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana,” said Le Comte. “Longview, in northeast Texas, has experienced the second driest March-June since 1902. D0, D1 and D2 drought expanded in Texas, with D1 stretching into the Blacklands. Farther south, D3 developed across the Lower Valley. As of June 28, year-to-date rainfall in Brownsville totaled just 2.85 inches versus the normal amount of 10.68 inches.”
Herd rebuilding, stronger prices?
The marked improvement in a large portion of the northern western states has market analysts projecting cattle herd expansion at rates two to three times more than last year and forecasting another strong rally in calf and feeder cattle prices this fall, particularly heifers.
“Particularly in the Dakotas, northern and western Nebraska, Colorado, and several states straight west, cattle herds were downsized significantly the past few years,” said Don Bainstrom, livestock market analyst with Plains Ag Commodities, Rapid City, SD. “The summer and fall grazing season looks to be six weeks to two months longer at least, and then normal wintering kicks in for females. Heifers could be hotly demanded, compared to their steer mates.”
Bainstrom and Jim Robb, chief analyst at the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC), Lakewood, CO, both indicated that steers from eastern Texas, southeastern Oklahoma, and into Missouri may start to somewhat overload the feeder cattle market if weather doesn’t cooperate and that even more heifers could be available for producers in areas where drought has started subsiding.
Robb added that stocking rates for pasture and rangeland in the northern two-thirds of the western U.S. are probably two to three times what they were the previous few years. Bainstrom concurred.
“We had a lot of northern Plains, and western cattle moving south the past few years because of drought,” said Bainstrom. “We could see a lot of Texas and Oklahoma females making their way back up here, particularly those with 1/4, or less, ear in them. The demand for heifers is improving and the continuation of better weather will only help more.” — Steven D. Vetter, WLJ Editor
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