Areas of Oklahoma negatively affected by drought are expanding rapidly, increasingly causing significant weather-related challenges for state cattle producers.

More than 48 percent of Oklahoma has been designated as having a severe or worse drought rating, including a recent dramatic jump—from 10.32 percent to 32.55 percent—in the worst drought category “Exceptional” or “D4.” Generally the drought is most evident in the middle and western areas of Oklahoma with the eastern part of the state holding on to decent moisture conditions.

“However, the majority of the state has received less than 40 percent of normal precipitation in the last 30 days, with more than half receiving less than 20 percent; this has pushed the drought severity eastward,” said Al Sutherland, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension assistant specialist with the Oklahoma Mesonet weather monitoring system.

Weekly range and pasture condition ratings in Oklahoma and Texas totaled 63 percent in the “poor” and “very poor” categories. That in turn has put greater stress on supplemental feeding programs.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that hay stocks in both Oklahoma and Texas on May 1 were above the previous five-year average; however, these stocks are likely being exhausted rapidly and overall hay production will be sharply lower than average this year,” said Derrell Peel, OSU Cooperative Extension livestock marketing specialist.

Making matters worse, industry analysts expect limited forage to be a threat through next winter even if drought conditions ease late in the growing season, making the availability of high-quality hay throughout this year and into the next all the more important.

Lack of forage is a significant reason why beef cow slaughter in Federal Region 6—Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Mexico—is 125 percent of the same period last year: the combination of cattle prices and increasing input costs makes culling the cows the most practical business decision in terms of operational profitability for many producers.

“This increase in Region 6 accounts for the six percent increase in the entire country for the same time period,” Peel said. “Beef cow slaughter in the rest of the country is down nearly one percent during this period.”

Peel said continued drought conditions in the southern Great Plains states and expanding drought conditions in the Southeast have the potential to result in significant additional beef cow culling in the coming weeks.

“Producers are faced not only with the continuing lack of production but also the threat of drought-enhanced wildfires that may potentially wipe out existing hay and forage stocks,” he said.

Nor is it solely a cattle producer concern. Increased difficulties at one point in the food production chain eventually have an effect on other aspects, often including consumers.

The historic low numbers present in America’s beef herd, caused by the drought and other factors, coupled with the lingering effects of the Great Recession on related industries such as manufacturing and transportation have helped drive up prices at the grocery counter. USDA estimates the average retail price for beef already has risen 9.1 percent in the last year to $4.43 per pound.

“Many things can have a positive or negative effect on America’s agricultural industries, weather not the least among them,” Sutherland said. “The state economies of Oklahoma and Texas combined have lost billions of dollars because of the drought. It’s not just a rural issue. We all depend on and benefit from our food and fiber industries.”

Recommended for you