Significant rains that have occurred in North Dakota and neighboring states in the Northern Plains the last three weeks have improved pasture and range conditions. Each Monday afternoon USDA-NASS releases a Crop Progress Report which shows state pasture and range conditions with a percentage rating in categories of very poor, poor, fair, good, and excellent. The first pasture and range conditions of the 2013 season were released for the week ending May 5 in the May 6 report.
North Dakota began the season with relatively dry conditions. For the first weekly report, NASS reported 23% of the pastures and ranges in the combined very poor and poor categories and that number increased to 27% for the week ending May 12. However, rains since then have improved conditions with only 3% rated in two worst categories for the week ending June 9. Southwestern ND was the driest region with some of the area rated as severe drought by the U.S. Drought Monitor (http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu) in March. Places in Southwestern ND have received over 10 inches of rain with much of the area receiving 5 to 10 inches and a current U.S. Drought Monitor rating of normal. Prior to the rainfall, producers were making drought management decisions and cow-calf pairs and summer grazing feeder cattle were being sold. The number of beef heifers for replacement in ND on January 1 was the fourth highest on record and likely some of those were sold to feedlots as well. The rains have improved pasture and hay prospects so forced selling of cattle has diminished in the last couple weeks. A livestock auction market that advertised a "cow-calf pair" special sale two weeks ago is now advertising a "summer grass cattle" special sale.
Severe drought in the Southern Plains in 2011 followed by a more widespread drought in much of the U.S. in 2012 caused poor pasture and range conditions to begin the 2013 season. In early May, 36% of the U.S. pastures and ranges were rated very poor and poor compared to 17% in 2012. Conditions continued to deteriorate last year and by August almost 60% of U.S. grazing land was rated in the two worst categories. This year conditions have improved on a weekly basis. For the week ending June 9, 24% of U.S. pastures and ranges were rated very poor and poor compared to 27% last year.
The Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC) groups states into six regions: West, Southern Plains, Great Plains, Corn Belt, Northeast and Southeast. To begin the season only the Southeast had improved conditions compared to last year. Conditions have improved on a weekly basis in each of the regions except the West. That region started the season with 37% very poor and poor conditions and that deteriorated to 46.5% for the week ending June 9.
Although conditions have improved in parts of the U.S., it is still early and drought can reoccur. Continued rains will be necessary since much of the country is attempting to recover from last year's drought. Severe drought is still prevalent in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico where over 50% of pastures and ranges are in very poor and poor condition. New Mexico leads the way with 97% in the two worst categories. Over 30% of beef cows still reside in states with 40% or more very poor and poor pasture and range conditions.
Fed cattle prices were lower last week. Across the 5-area market, liveweight steer prices averaged $122.81 per hundredweight down $1.83 for the week. Dressed weight prices declined $2.44 to average $196.94 for the week. The boxed beef market continued to decline after reaching record highs two weeks ago. Choice boxed beef prices averaged $204.21 down $4.11 for the week. Most calf and feeder cattle prices were higher around the country as receipts at markets were seasonally smaller. Corn prices in Omaha on Thursday were up 9 cents a bushel for the week at $7.29.