For Oklahoma producers, the 2012 drought has been a very different situation compared to the extremes of 2011. Having had moisture in the winter and spring, the drought has not caused nearly as much distress this summer as a year ago. Many Oklahoma producers are still in a reduced stocking situation, which means that there was less need for destocking so far this year. Oklahoma auction market totals show the contrast between the two years, with reported feeder cattle volume since July 4 this year down 30 percent from the same period last year and cow and bull sales down a whopping 69 percent from the severe destocking rates of 2011. This likely means that cattle producers have made much less adjustment to drought conditions this year compared to last year.
However, the current situation in Oklahoma is very severe and producers may face more painful decisions in the near future. The latest Drought Monitor indicates that 91 percent of Oklahoma is in the worst two drought categories with 40 percent in the D4 exceptional drought category. The latest range and pasture condition ratings from USDA put 43 percent of Oklahoma pasture and ranges in Very Poor condition along with 37 percent in Poor condition. These ratings reflect the lack of rainfall this summer. In the last 120 days, the state has received only 52 percent of average rainfall, with a deficit of 6.81 inches of rain for the period. Some regions of the state are well below this average including the North Central region with 39 percent of average rainfall, the West Central region of the state with 45 percent of average rainfall and the Panhandle with 48 percent of average rainfall for this period.
The adequacy of hay supplies is critical as producers make plans for winter management. Though conditions are not as extreme as last year at this time, it could be a very long winter. Oklahoma hay production in 2012 is significantly higher than 2011 but still well below average. Projected alfalfa hay production is up 54 percent from last year but is still 61 percent below the 2006-2010 average. Similarly, other hay production is projected to be up 56 percent over 2011 but still 27 percent below the five year average. These hay production projections, combined with May 1 hay stocks that were down 41 percent from the 2006-2010 average, mean that hay supplies for the winter will well below average. Anecdotally, there seems to be considerable variation around the state with some producers reporting ample hay supplies while others appear to be short of needed supplies. Regional hay supplies will be very tight with Arkansas having the worst hay situation of any state and Kansas and Missouri in roughly the same hay situation as Oklahoma. Nationally, hay supplies will be down 14 from the 2006-2010 average and hay prices are projected at records levels. While hay flowed into Oklahoma for many months last year, there are calls from surrounding regions this year looking to buy hay or relocate cows here from other drought areas. Hay may not be available or affordable if supplies are not adequate for the winter.
Producers need to assess now whether they have adequate forage for the winter. Early weaning and cow culling can help stretch limited forage in the next six to eight weeks. Last winter, the mild weather and late season rains that provided wheat pasture came to the rescue of many producers. It might happen again this year…but then again it might remain dry and be a severe winter. Now is the time to prepare for conditions in January and February.
Source: Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist