Drought Swells in Plains as Producers Fear Repeat of 2011

5/17/18 Drought Concerns Growing
Longer-term forecasts will benefit agriculture and natural resource management.

Before too long, May will be over, and cattle producers in the Plains are concerned about summer grazing prospects.

According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, nearly the entire state of Kansas is experiencing some level of drought, except the far northwestern corner of the state. The drought in the Panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma and the Four Corners region has spread.

Last week, the USDA released the first weekly Pasture and Range Conditions Report, opening with the lowest ratings for the same time period since 2014.

According to the report, roughly 20 percent of U.S. pastures are in poor to very poor condition, more than 10 percent higher than this time last year. The farther west, the conditions are poorer at 30 percent, causing negative impacts on the cattle.

“Hot, dry weather and short pastures obviously stress cows and reduce calf performance, and the effects can stretch into next year with lower conception rates from undernourished cows,” said Greg Henderson, editorial director for Drovers magazine.

One-third of the nation’s cow herd lives in five states experiencing D4 or exceptional drought: Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas. 

Some of those places haven’t seen rain since October, causing some producers to question if 2018 will be a repeat of the drought of 2011.

Ryan Martin, chief meteorologist with Hoosier Ag Today, says it will take more than a garden variety thunderstorm to fix the drought, or a front to “fix the problem.”

“You’re going to need a massive storm complex which will fundamentally change the atmospheric profile which will get more moisture,” he said.

According to Martin, the drought of 2011 covered a wider area than this drought, but the places impacted by drought are comparable to 2011.