By Donald Stotts, Oklahoma State University
Although Oklahoma’s 2012 drought conditions typically have not caused as much distress this summer as a year ago, many cattle producers are still in a reduced stocking situation, and that could make for painful business decisions.
Oklahoma auction market totals show the contrast between the two years, with reported feeder cattle volume since July 4 having decreased 30 percent from the same period last year, while cow and bull sales decreased a whopping 69 percent from the severe destocking rates of 2011.
"This likely means that cattle producers have made much less adjustment to drought conditions this year compared to 2011," said Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension livestock marketing specialist. "The current situation in Oklahoma is still very severe."
The latest Drought Monitor indicates that 91 percent of Oklahoma is in the worst two drought categories, with 40 percent in the D4 "exceptional drought" category. The latest range and pasture condition ratings from the U.S. Department of Agriculture places 43 percent of Oklahoma pasture and ranges in "very poor condition," with another 37 percent in "poor condition."
"These ratings reflect the lack of rainfall this summer," Peel said. "In the last 120 days, Oklahoma has received only 52 percent of its average rainfall totals, with a deficit of 6.81 inches of rain for the period."
Some regions of the state are well below this average, including the North Central region with 39 percent of average rainfall, the West Central region with 45 percent of average rainfall and the Panhandle region, with 48 percent of average rainfall.
"Having adequate supplies of hay available is critical as producers make plans for winter management," Peel said. "Though current conditions are not as extreme as this time last year, it could be a very long winter for producers tending to the nutrition needs of their herds."
Oklahoma hay production in 2012 is significantly higher than 2011 but still well below average. Projected alfalfa hay production has increased 54 percent compared to last year, but is still 61 percent below the 2006-2010 average. Similarly, other hay production is projected to have increased 56 percent compared to 2011, but that number is still 27 percent below the five-year average.
"Hay production projections for Oklahoma, combined with May 1 hay stocks that were down 41 percent from the 2006-2010 average, mean that hay supplies for the winter will be well below average," Peel said.
Peel added that there seems to be considerable variation around the state, with some producers reporting ample hay supplies while others appear to be short of needed supplies.
"Regional hay supplies will be very tight with Arkansas having the worst hay situation, with Kansas and Missouri in roughly the same hay situation as Oklahoma," he said. "Nationally, hay supplies will be down 14 percent from the 2006-2010 average and hay prices are projected at records levels. Hay may not be available or affordable."
While hay flowed into Oklahoma for many months last year, there are calls from surrounding regions this year wherein cattle producers are looking to buy hay or relocate cows from other drought areas.
"Oklahoma cattle producers should currently be assessing whether or not their operations have adequate forage for the winter, and remember that early weaning and cow culling can help stretch limited forage in the next six weeks to eight weeks," Peel said.
Last winter, mild weather and late season rains that provided wheat pasture came to the rescue of many cattle producers. It might happen again this year, or it might not.
"Preparing for January and February conditions now is a good investment in time, energy and effort, and may save a producer’s wallet come next year," Peel said.