If you’re planning to extend the grazing season to put more weight on stockers, Mother Nature may step in and force your management and marketing decisions. Heading into the dog days of summer, you can anticipate lower-quality forages.

Right now, however, some areas of the United States are experiencing drier than normal or even drought conditions, causing pastures and forages to be in poor to very poor condition. Those conditions may force you to feed cattle earlier than expected or go ahead and market cattle.

According to USDA’s Pasture and Range Crop Condition Report, most pasture and ranges were in fair, good or excellent condition, while 27 percent of the 48 states were suffering from poor to very poor pasture conditions. Those states still struggling with poor conditions include Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Nevada and Arizona. California was in the worst shape last week as 71 percent of pastures were classified as very poor, and no pastures were in the good or excellent category.

Those dry conditions are causing wildfire problems in some of those states and irrigation demands are running high, leading to concerns over water availability for livestock in some areas.

Still, this year’s pasture conditions are slightly better than the same time last year, when most of the central and southwestern United States were suffering from severe drought. This year, the Central Plains states are seeing regular rainfall and good pasture conditions.

Last week, the NOAA's ClimatePredictionCenter released its Seasonal Drought Outlook and predicts varying degrees of drought improvement by the end of October across the eastern half of the country. Hot, dry weather expected late July into early August will worsen drought in the upper Midwest. For the drought areas in the West, forecasters expect summer thunderstorms to offer some drought relief, mainly in the Southwest.