Today marks the first day of summer, but pasture and range conditions on many ranches resemble those usually prevalent during late summer. If the spring of 2012 came early to cattle country, so has the summer of 2012.

Winter and spring precipitation eased drought conditions in many regions, but hot, dry weather throughout late spring has rapidly eroded grazing prospects and has corn growers nervous.

(View the National Drought Monitor here.)

USDA’s weekly crop progress report revealed further decline in pasture and range conditions throughout the Central Plains. For the week ending June 17, only 40 percent of the pastures in the contiguous 48 states were rated “good” or “excellent,” compared to 46 percent two weeks prior.

More telling, however, was the 28 percent of pastures rated as “very poor” and “poor,” compared to 22 percent two weeks prior. Both the June 17 and the June 3 report found 32 percent of pastures in “fair” condition.

Individually, several states in the Midwest and Central Plains have seen dramatic declines in pasture and range conditions over the past two weeks. Illinois, for instance, a large corn producing state, saw 12 percent of pastures fall into the “very poor” or “poor” categories in the June 3 report. By June 17 the “very poor” and “poor” combination had jumped to 33 percent.

On June 3 Missouri was already showing severe effects from lack of moisture with 35 percent of pastures falling into the bottom two categories. Within two weeks, however, the percentage of “very poor” and “poor” pastures had climbed to 47 percent. Meanwhile, neighboring Kansas has seen conditions deteriorate faster, with 32 percent of pastures rating in the bottom two categories two weeks ago, but 48 percent earning the lowest ratings on June 17.

The following are selected states with the combination percentages of “very poor” and “poor” on June 3, followed by the percentage of pastures totaling that combination on June 17:

Arkansas 45 56
Illinois 12 33
Indiana 17 41
Iowa 11 22
Kansas 32 48
Missouri 35 47
Nebraska 16 30
Ohio 9 19
Oklahoma 15 16
So. Dakota 6 11
Florida 24 10
California 40 60
Colorado 53 58
New Mexico 82 85
Wisconsin 6 20
Texas 36 37

Market analysts note that beef cow slaughter rates have been running below year ago levels this year, but a lack of grazing may force that to change in the coming weeks. Beef cow slaughter for the period April 28 to June 2 was 288,000 head, 15.6 percent lower than last year when the southwestern U.S. was under a devastating drought. Even with continued dry weather, cow slaughter may not match last year’s levels, but it could further delay beef cow herd rebuilding.