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drought ground

Drought accelerating more rapidly

Extreme drought saw almost three-fold increase during month of August.

The percentage of the continental U.S. experiencing drought has risen significantly over the past few weeks, reaching the highest drought coverage seen since Feb. 6, 2018, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture meteorologist Brad Rippey. During the month of August, extreme drought (D3) saw an almost three-fold increase across the country.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor showed that 39.41% of the U.S. was experiencing some form of drought, up from 34.40% in the previous reading.

As winter wheat planting gets underway, Rippey said 24% of the production region is in drought, up from only 8% during the same period last year. This is a growing concern, especially for hard red winter wheat area, he said.

“We are certainly seeing impact from this wide-ranging drought that’s primarily affecting the West but also has sneaked its way into parts of the Midwest,” Rippey said.

The level of drought in the U.S. corn production area has risen from 18% just four weeks ago to 32%. Soybeans are also seeing an increase, going from 13% to 23%, and hay production area in drought has increased from 19% to 24%. The amount of U.S. cattle inventory in drought areas has increased from 27% to 33%.

Rippey reported that pasture and rangeland conditions are also at their lowest conditions since the drought of 2012.

The latest USDA “Crop Progress” report showed 46% of pastures in poor/very poor condition, with pastures in very poor condition rising 1% during the most recent period. Only 22% are currently in excellent/good condition.

Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist, pointed out that 50% of pastures in the western region are in poor/very poor condition, followed closely by the Great Plains and southern Plains, each with 42% of pastures in poor/very poor condition. At the current time, Peel said 41% of beef cows are in states that have at least 40% poor to very poor pasture conditions, compared to 19% one year ago.

Peel said there is no doubt that the lack of pasture is creating management challenges in the worst drought areas, likely leading to some regional destocking and relocation of cows. However, he said it is unclear whether the drought has resulted in significant net herd liquidation thus far.

Year-to-date beef cow slaughter is up 3.3% from the year-ago period but is down fractionally for the past four weeks, he added.

Peel said poor pasture conditions at the end of the grazing season will make the question of hay supplies more critical going into the fall and winter. USDA's August “Crop Production” report forecasted 2020 alfalfa hay production to be down 5.9% year over year, with other hay production down 0.5% compared to last year.

“The reduction in alfalfa hay production is generally more important in the northern half of the country and affects both beef and dairy cows,” he noted. “In the western region, both alfalfa and other hay production are down year over year and, combined with the poor pasture conditions, suggest the biggest regional challenges in the coming months.”

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