OKLAHOMA CITY — Winter storms that dumped ice and snow across Oklahoma in December have cattle ranchers and wheat farmers optimistic about their fortunes in 2014, even as they say that more moisture is needed.
The water from melting ice and snow as a result of December's precipitation has helped keep hay and pastures green and moist enough to keep cattle fed, according to rancher Paul Schilberg in Clinton in western Oklahoma, but more is needed.
"We're not in bad shape right now, but we sure need some rain," Schilberg said.
"We had some timely rains in August and it sure made the hay crop moist, and the wheat pastures are looking really good this year," Schilberg said. "We just need a big old rain. For the most part, the rain we've gotten has pretty much soaked in, not that much runoff," to fill dry ponds.
Agricultural economist Darrel Peel at Oklahoma State University said 2014 also appears to be shaping up as a good year for cattle ranchers after two years of drought conditions that had many ranchers selling at least some of their herd in order to feed, water and support the remainder of the herd.
"In the second half of (2013) these cattle markets have recovered very strongly. Cattle numbers are very limited and (because of) that tight supply ... in 2014, we're predicting record cattle prices and record returns in profitably," for ranchers, Peel said.
In southwestern Oklahoma, where the U.S. Drought Monitor reported extreme to exceptional drought conditions, the wheat crop was benefiting from the recent precipitation, said David Gammill, who has about 1,000 acres in wheat planted near Grandfield.
"We've gotten some pretty decent moisture. It's encouraging enough to maintain the wheat, it's enough to get us over to February," when, Gammill said, rain will be needed to continue the wheat's growth until harvest in late May to early June.
"We've got a good stand. We do have hope for a good crop," Gammill said.
Oklahoma Wheat Commission Executive Director Mike Schulte said it's too early to predict what the wheat crop will produce, but said he is optimistic thus far and hoping for about 4.5 million acres of wheat harvested in 2014.
"A lot of that is based on the moisture that we have received compared to the moisture that we had when last year's crop was put out," Schulte said. "In 2012 we had 4.3 million acres harvested, last year we had 3.4 million acres. We're hoping that we'll be above that," for the 2014 crop, Schulte said.
"That harvest number is always around 3.8 to 4.5 million" acres, he said.
"I' don't like to predict this early out — a lot can happen with Mother Nature," Schulte said. "A lot can happen between now and harvest."
Significant moisture in the immediate future, through the end of February and early March, would not be typical, according to Gary McManus, associate climatologist for the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.
"We'd probably expect where there is drought right now, it probably will continue," McManus said. "There's really just no way to know right now what our fortunes are going to be, the science just isn't advanced enough to tell us what specifically is going to happen down in southwest Oklahoma over the next three to four months.
"Through February — that's probably how long we're projecting the drought to continue," McManus said.