The latest Drought Monitor shows that drought continues to worsen in the southern High Plains. Across the continental U.S., 0.55 percent of the country is in D4 (Exceptional) drought. The majority of that area is in Oklahoma, where D4 makes up 14.79 percent of the state, focused in the northwest and panhandle areas. The D4 region also includes portions of southwest Kansas and the northeast Texas Panhandle. A growing region of D3 (Extreme) drought conditions covers much of western Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, southwest Kansas and extends westward to include northern New Mexico, Arizona, southern Colorado and portions of Utah.
According to the Oklahoma Mesonet system, the Panhandle region of Oklahoma, which includes five counties in northwest Oklahoma and the panhandle, are, for the last 120 days, the driest on record in the entire data period since 1921. The region has received 0.32 inches of rain (9 percent of normal) since Dec. 3, 2017. This is followed by the West Central region of the state, another six counties, with the second driest 120-day interval since Dec. 2. This region has received 1.21 inches of rain, 22 percent of normal for the period. Nearly as bad are the North Central region (eight counties) with the ninth driest period and the Southwest region (eight counties) with the 11th driest for this time period.
In contrast, the southeast region of the state (five counties bordering Arkansas and northeast Texas) is currently experiencing the eighth wettest 120-day period since Dec. 2, with 22.5 inches of rain, 153 percent of normal precipitation. The distance from the closest edges of the southwest and southeast regions is less than 170 miles. Clearly a wide range of conditions exist across Oklahoma, with a correspondingly wide range of implications for cattle and forage production in different parts of the state.
The drought has significantly altered winter stocker cattle production and marketing this year. In the last six weeks from mid-February to the end of March, combined auction totals in the state were down 16.7 percent year over year. This is the typical time period for marketing stockers from dual-purpose winter wheat grazing, the so-called “Wheat Pasture Run”. In contrast, the three weeks prior to that time period, from late January to mid-February, saw a 21.9 percent year over year increase in auction volume. The early marketing of winter grazing cattle has affected the timing of feedlot placements and has implications for seasonal feedlot marketings in the coming months. Large feedlot placements in recent months may be tempered by less than typical placements in March, April and May.