Wheat pasture prospects fading fast

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No significant rain has fallen in Oklahoma in over two weeks.  Last week’s Crop Progress showed that 25 percent of Oklahoma wheat was in good condition and 61 percent was fair with only 12 percent poor or very poor.  Though the wheat crop in 2011 was planted later, the crop condition at the end of October was substantially better than this year. Moreover, wheat conditions will likely show significant deterioration very soon without rain.  Since the majority of wheat has emerged and soil moisture is depleted in many areas, additional moisture is critical and must arrive very soon.  In the driest areas of the north central and northwest parts of the state, wheat has either not emerged or has not been planted at this time.  The short term weather forecast indicates little precipitation probability for the next 8-14 days.  The El Niño that has been anticipated much of the summer and fall appears to have faded into weak or neutral conditions, providing fewer chances for winter moisture in the Southern Plains.

Stocker demand has faltered as the potential wheat pasture is far from a reality at this time.  Stocker producers are in a wait-and-see mode before committing to stocker purchases.  There appears to be considerable interest in wheat pasture leasing by producers as well as feedlots hoping to secure some spring feeder cattle supplies and use wheat pasture to put on cheaper weight gain before feedlot placement.  However, the clock is ticking on wheat pasture prospects in Oklahoma.

Many cow-calf producers were likewise hoping that wheat pasture would supplement hay supplies that are, in many cases, barely sufficient for winter feeding.  The recent lack of rain is beginning to re-advance drought conditions that had improved somewhat in the past few weeks.  The final set of pasture and range conditions in October showed 69 percent of the state in poor to very poor condition compared to 86 percent poor to very poor at the end of October, 2011.   Lack of water is increasingly the principal challenge of many producers.  Many ponds are critically low and only in a very few isolated areas did the earlier rains produce any runoff to replenish water supplies.  If freezing weather should occur, many ponds will freeze solid even if they are not completely dry; a threat that will grow as winter approaches.

Oklahoma has not experienced nearly the level of cattle liquidation or early marketings in 2012, compared to the massive liquidation in 2011.  Better forage and hay production in the first half of 2012, combined with already destocked herds, made it possible for most producers to get to this point in 2012 with little additional liquidation.  However, current water and hay conditions mean that many producers may not be able to make it through the winter or will arrive at spring with water and forage resources completely depleted.  Continued dry conditions that eliminate wheat pasture and fails to replenish water supplies sets up the next round of cattle liquidation in Oklahoma.  A normal winter will be tough and anything more severe than normal will accelerate additional liquidation.

Source: Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist



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