Thursday, March 14, 2013

Plains Drought Still Big Issue

Despite two large snowstorms in portions of the Plains in the past month, drought conditions remain quite severe in the Plains and across the South.  It's not *as* bad as a month prior, when exceptional drought conditions (dark red) persisted across Oklahoma, but there's still a high level of extreme (solid red) drought in these areas as the snows that fell across the Southern Plains were drops in the bucket.

Despite those snows, and precipitation that also fell across the rest of the Plains, drought remains a huge issue for farmers as the nation trudges into Spring.  The good news for Kansas and Oklahoma farmers is that winter wheat crops, which are the dormant through the cold season but are the chief crop harvested in late Spring, are doing ok.  24 percent of Kansas wheat was rated excellent or good, with 16 percent in Oklahoma receiving similar ratings.  Both of these are higher from earlier in the winter.

Where rains aren't helping is with cattle, as stream flow remains low and good grazing land still remains parched from months of little to no rainfall.  Even within the last 90 days, precipitation rates are only running around normal in the eastern halves of Kansas and Oklahoma, while the western halves are doing better.  There's still a lot of ground to be made up though as the graphics above attest.

Agriculture observers argue the next three months will be critical.  Steady rains will help with the winter wheat harvest but, more importantly, help re-establish stream flow that will help cattle out.

Given beef prices are rising due to a combination of fewer cattle on the market due to drought and also partly due to increased demand abroad, as well as increased costs for corn and wheat since there's less of that on the market due to the drought.  If you've been food shopping recently and wondered why prices are higher on ground beef or various cuts of beef, the drought is playing a rather significant role (in addition to the increased foreign demand) on jacking prices higher.

Between the increased costs on food (not just beef but also corn and wheat) and the impact Plains' precipitation may have on the nation's summer weather (drought equals higher propensity for big time heat waves to develop and spread east), it probably wouldn't be a bad thing for the Plains to get some steady rains in the next several weeks.