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Opinion
Mar 16, 2012

April Showers

April showers

It’s still a little early to talk about the weather, but my latest travels through the Intermountain West suggest we could see a dry spring. We went to bull sales in Wyoming and Montana last week and the dry weather was on everyone’s mind, although they didn’t want to talk about it, thinking they would jinx the idea of more spring moisture. It is rare to have 70 degree weather in March. For much of the north and Northwest, it’s been a fairly open winter and I’m sure many cattlemen haven’t had to use as much hay as normal.

 

The mountains seem mixed on snowpack with the Colorado snowpack at about 80 percent of normal and the Beartooth Mountains with a 120 percent snowpack, I was told. But a good look at most mountain ranges suggests that we could be behind on irrigation water this summer. Many ranchers are not too concerned about snowpack, but are worried about their first spring rains.

We have heard reports of spotty rains on the West Coast where they are becoming desperate for moisture. The folks in central Texas are already figuring on another dry year. The wheat grass in most northern regions is just now getting a hint of green while down in Colorado on the Front Range, the wheat is looking good.

The bull sales I attended were very good. At Jensen’s Lucky Seven Angus, we averaged around $5,900 on 277 2-year-old Angus bulls. Then at Larson Red Angus, we averaged about $9,000 on their herd bulls, $3,000 on their range bulls, and sold the heck out of their registered heifer calves. This outfit is a seedstock source for other Red Angus breeders. Larsons have more herd bulls in bull studs than just about any Red Angus breeder in the business, big and small.

But when it comes to these bulls, quality sells, and these sales were just like every one I’ve been to where the good ones bring lots of money, and the regular bulls seem to struggle. Most cattlemen are looking for the same things, calving ease and growth.

But, this moisture situation is about the last thing this business needs right now. We know that there have been tons of heifers bought this fall and winter with the idea of breeding them. Unless we get some good early spring rains, it could dash a lot of hopes in growing the beef cow herd.

I spoke with one man in Sheridan, MT, who said that he has had only 2 inches of rain since last July. This region of Montana is typically high, wet mountain valleys that are able to produce lots of hay. He said that the Bitterroot Mountains had very little snowpack, which is what he relies on for irrigation. Most of Montana has had a good year, though, and had excessive amounts of water last year.

At best, the moisture situation is spotty. Some areas on the West Coast are getting more than their share of snow and rain and some places aren’t getting near enough; we have heard reports that California cattlemen are already moving cattle off pastures that never got a good start. I would expect to see an early spring run on West Coast feeders and calves.

The long-term drought forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued March 15 said that since the release of the previous drought outlook issued on March 1, 2012, drought improvement occurred across parts of the Great Plains and along the Gulf Coast, while drought intensified across the Florida peninsula and the West.

The seasonal precipitation signals are weak, as La Ni a is forecast to transition to El Ni o/La Ni a- Southern Oscillation-neutral conditions by the end of April. During the remainder of March, more beneficial precipitation can be expected across the Great Plains, especially across southeast Kansas, Oklahoma and northern/central Texas.

This March precipitation, coupled with an increasingly wet climatology, favor improvement across parts of the Great Plains along with the western Corn Belt and upper Mississippi Valley. Prospects for improvement diminish across the central/southern High Plains, while persistence is expected across the Southwest. After an unseasonably dry winter, precipitation returned to the Pacific Northwest and California during March. Although improvement is forecast across the Pacific Northwest and northern California due to a favorable pattern for continued wetness throughout March, a complete recovery of the deficient snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is not expected. Persistence is forecast for much of the Southeast due to relatively dry conditions expected during late March and April. — PETE CROW

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