There’s little doubt it’s dry. As of the end of January, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows 33% of the country is in some form of drought. As farmers look ahead to spring, concerns about available moisture, stockpiling forage and the potential for wildfire outbreaks are mounting.
In the southern half of the U.S., late January rains barely kept the area from falling further behind in moisture. As of Jan. 25, the county director for Wagoner and Mayes counties in Oklahoma reported all of the winter wheat crop was in poor or very poor condition, and some producers were selling cattle early due to poor grazing.
Cattle producers should be realistic about the possibility that current drought conditions could get worse, says Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension economist. He advises producers to have adequate hay supplies and marketing plans ready.
Some farmers in the Southwest have been under pressure since summer 2017, as dry weather hurt hay and soybean yields, as well as deteriorated wheat and grazing conditions.
Weather stations in Moriarty and Conchas Dam, N.M.; Amarillo, Texas and Woodward, Okla., report they have gone more than 100 days with no measurable precipitation.
Kansas State University scientists and the National Interagency Coordination Center are warning producers in the central and southern Plains there’s a higher-than-normal risk of wildfire through April.
Some parts of Kansas, especially the south-central and southwest areas, saw above-normal moisture during the 2017 growing season, which resulted in significant risk for wildfire because of plant growth, says Chip Redmond, Kansas State meteorologist. “Areas west of US-81 have seen considerable drying in recent months with many locations exceeding 90 days without a wetting rain. This, combined with persistent dry air masses, sunny skies and breezy winds, are rapidly depleting any remnant of moisture,” he says.
While some areas are prone to dry conditions in the winter, this is usually the recharge season in the Southeast. But with below-normal precipitation, there’s little evidence moisture recharge is occurring.