Parts of southern Oklahoma and specifically southeastern Oklahoma received rain in the past couple of weeks. Last week also brought rain and snow to parts of western Oklahoma including a band of wet snow along Interstate 40 in west-central Oklahoma that contributed up to an inch of precipitation across several counties. All in all, however, it has been relatively dry this winter in much of the state. As a result, severe drought conditions persist in areas of southwestern and northwestern Oklahoma, including parts of the Oklahoma Panhandle. These severe drought areas have expanded slightly through the winter, but perhaps more disturbing is that marginal drought conditions have redeveloped across much of the state. The latest Drought Monitor indicates that the areas of worst drought (D3 and D4) have increased from 20.87 percent of the state three months ago to 22.58 percent in the current map. However, the total region of the state classified as abnormally dry or worse has expanded from 70.41 percent of the state as late as a week ago to 94.97 percent in the current Drought Monitor map. These redeveloping drought conditions are not so much an immediate threat but do represent a potentially huge threat as spring approaches.
Winter wheat in Oklahoma was rated in generally fair to good condition in the latest Crop Progress update for the state released by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS) in early January. In the same report USDA-NASS indicated that 41 percent of wheat was being grazed this year, up from last year and the average level, both at 32 percent. More stocker cattle are grazing wheat this year than in several years and livestock conditions are generally rated as good. However, dry conditions, coupled with some earlier cold temperatures, have sharply slowed wheat growth recently and wheat forage supplies are dwindling fast. A few cattle are already being pulled off wheat and sold and the pace will accelerate in the coming weeks. If forage holds out, winter wheat grazing will continue another three to five weeks for wheat producers intending to harvest a grain crop. Wheat grazing termination depends on the date of first hollow stem in the wheat, which depends on the year, the wheat variety and the location. Some producers will be evaluating the decision to harvest wheat versus graze-out in the next month.
USDA-NASS recently released the 2014 hay production and stocks data. Total 2014 hay production in Oklahoma was up 23 percent from one year ago and up 37 percent over the five-year average prior to 2014. “Other hay”, which accounts for 83 percent of Oklahoma hay production, was at the highest level since 2007. Alfalfa hay production in 2014 was at the highest level since 2010. Stocks of hay in Oklahoma on December 1, 2014 were reported at 5.1 million tons, up 31 percent from last year and 37 percent higher than the previous five-year average. It is the highest December 1 hay stocks level in Oklahoma since 2007.
Cattle producers generally have adequate forage supplies to finish the winter. Producers should carefully monitor local drought conditions as the new growing season approaches. Hay supplies may provide critically needed flexibility if spring forage growth is limited or delayed. Producers should have a management plan in mind that covers a wide range of moisture scenarios that could develop this spring.