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Drought intensifies in the WestDrought intensifies in the West

Short-term drought intensification in the Northwest has impacted agriculture.

Krissa Welshans

June 7, 2021

2 Min Read
drought ground

Despite an overall decline in drought conditions across the U.S. during May, drought continued to intensify in the West, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“As we move into the month of June, we continue to see at least two-thirds coverage of the two highest drought categories, D3 to D4 or extreme to exception drought, in a number of Western states, including California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico,” said USDA meteorologist, Brad Rippey.

More troubling, he said, was short-term drought intensification in the Northwest that did have an impact on agriculture, including rangeland and pasture conditions as well as winter wheat, barley, and spring wheat.

As of June 1, 59% of the U.S. is experiencing some for of drought, with 21% experiencing exception to extreme drought.


According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, recent precipitation in the southern Plains and the Mid-Atlantic into the Northeast helped ease and improve drought in those regions. Some precipitation also occurred in the South and portions of the Midwest, but the Southeast and Southwest remained dry.

The USDA “Crop Progress” report showed pasture and rangeland conditions improved by 3% last week to 31% in good/excellent condition. However, 51% of pasture and rangeland is in poor/fair condition. The U.S. Drought Monitor reported that 30% of the U.S. cattle inventory is an area experience drought and that 31% of hay acreage is within an area experiencing drought.

Oklahoma State University livestock economist Derrell Peel recently noted that producers caught in drought have been impacted for many months but added that reports out of the Northern Plains are suggesting a significant number of cows are being moved out of North Dakota and eastern Montana.

For producers not in the drought, “keep an eye on it,” Peel said, as market impacts could eventually show up and a drop off could happen sooner.

Additionally, the drought could bring a more accelerated liquidation, which would alter the cattle cycle, he said.

On the crop side, 24% of U.S. corn production and 23% of U.S. soybean production is within an area experiencing some form of drought.

Looking ahead, the U.S. Drought Monitor said much of the West as well as the central Plains will remain dry over the next week. While the southern Plains and portions of the Carolinas are expected to see the most rain, warmer than normal conditions will dominate the West and into the northern Plains.

The six to 10-day outlooks show the majority of the country has above normal chances of recording temperatures above normal during the period with the northern Plains, upper Midwest, and the Northeast having the greatest likelihood.

“It is anticipated that dry conditions will continue to dominate the Plains and West with the highest likelihood over the Great Basin. The greatest odds of above normal precipitation will be along the Mississippi Valley and into the southern Plains,” the report noted.

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