Perhaps the surest sign that the drought in Oklahoma has been severely dented is the return of severe weather that reminds us why Oklahoma is the heart of Tornado Alley. The latest round of storms this last week culminated in deadly tornados and record rain totals in central and eastern Oklahoma which added to the grisly human toll for the month of May 2013. These recent conditions are a direct contrast to the noticeable reduction in severe weather in Oklahoma since the drought began in late 2010. The devastation that many individuals, families, businesses and agricultural operations have been subjected to is part of the price that accompanies improvement in agricultural conditions in Oklahoma. My thoughts and best wishes are directed to all those who have suffered the brunt of Oklahoma’s May fury.
The diversity of crop, forage, and livestock production activities in Oklahoma all reflect the typical weather pattern that often includes the violent weather we have experienced recently. Much of the eastern two-thirds of the state have seen significant recharge of soil moisture that will support summer crop and forage production. Very importantly for cattle production, the intense rainfall has filled surface water supplies in many areas though coverage is variable. Producers are now able to assess their forage conditions, in many cases for the first time since 2010 and develop management plans for recovery. In some situations, perennial forage has been lost in whole or in part due to drought. In other cases, perennial forage is overwhelmed by annual weeds and grasses that provide specific management challenges. In the past two years, large quantities of hay been brought into Oklahoma, often from very distant sources. Producers should be alert to new weed or other plant species that may have been inadvertently introduced to Oklahoma pastures and may pose new management challenges. Though the drought threat is not eliminated, many producers can begin to move forward with recovery, restoration and rebuilding their cattle operations.
The drought, however, is by no means gone from Oklahoma. The drought line now extends roughly 2-3 counties in from the western border of Oklahoma including the Oklahoma Panhandle and back into north central counties along the Kansas border. This, roughly one-third of the state, includes areas that have seen relatively little of the recent moisture and remain in severe to exceptional drought. This region includes typically drier regions dominated by native range. Rangeland in this region is enduring the third summer of drought and remains in extremely poor condition with the level of long-term or permanent damage unknown at this time. Though the drought challenges continue very severe in this region, the improvement in central and eastern Oklahoma should provide some indirect help by making alternative sources of forage and hay more accessible and closer compared to the past two years.
Much of Oklahoma has experienced welcome, though costly, improvement in agricultural conditions in recent weeks. Producers in these areas can begin think about restoring business in a more normal fashion while producers in continuing drought areas continue to endure and survive while waiting to see if the drought continues to move west.