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Drought Conditions Underscoring Importance of Wintertime Agricultural Planning

Expanding drought combined with decreasing hay stocks should be a sign of cattle producers to give extra thought to potential management implications during the coming weeks.
The latest Drought Monitor as of this writing shows 33 percent of the country is in some form of drought, with the D1 percentage being the largest since October 2015. Another 28 percent of the United States is abnormally dry.
“Combine that with the fact total U.S. hay production in 2017 was down 2.6 percent year-over-year, plus total hay stocks on Dec. 1, 2017 were down 10 percent compared to one year ago,” said Nathan Anderson, Payne County Extension director and agricultural educator. “That is a worrisome combination.”
In Oklahoma, 100 percent of the state is abnormally dry – D0 or worse – with 84 percent of the state in some form of drought, D1 or worse. The bulk of the drought is D1 Moderate at 36 percent of the state. D2 Severe also accounts for 36 percent with D3 Extreme totaling 12 percent. There is currently no D4 Exceptional drought.
Oklahoma hay stocks as of Dec. 1, 2017 were down 15.8 percent year over year despite a 2.7 percent increase in total hay production in the state compared to 2016.
“Hay stocks are down in the region with decreased Dec. 1 hay stocks reported in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas,” said Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension livestock marketing specialist. “New Mexico hay stocks were unchanged and Colorado reported a 6.1 percent year-over-year increase.”
However, Peel cautioned, combined hay stocks in Oklahoma and all states that border Oklahoma were down 15.7 percent on Dec. 1, 2017.
“These seven states accounted for 49 percent of the year-over-year decrease in Dec. 1 U.S. hay stocks,” he said. “Recent winter storms and extended cold weather have accelerated hay use in the region and have no doubt further drawn down hay stocks since that time.”
One immediate problem is the lack of growth of winter wheat and other cool-season forages and the generally poor and deteriorating condition of those pastures.
“Some cattle have already been removed from pastures and more early marketings are likely in the coming weeks,” Peel said. “Producers should make alternative plans for management and marketing of cattle currently grazing winter pasture. In situations where wheat has not been grazed, contingency plans for using whatever forages are available may be needed if drought conditions persist and worsen.”
Another immediate problem is the high wildfire threat that may persist for several more weeks. Although producers have limited ability to avoid wildfire threats, Anderson said any possible preparedness is a good idea.
“Enhanced daily vigilance may help catch wildfires more quickly,” he said. “Have any available equipment that can be used to fight fire available and ready for rapid deployment. In some cases plowing fire breaks around structures and hay piles may help reduce damage in the event of a wildfire.”
Possible Futures Planned For Now
Thinking farther down the road, Extension agricultural educators and specialists with OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources’ recommend producers plan now for the possibility that current drought conditions get worse in the coming weeks.
“It’s important to assess forage supplies and develop management and marketing plans in case drought conditions persist into spring,” Anderson said. “We know from bitter experience in 2011 how quickly devastating an early-onset drought can be.”
Anderson and Peel said drought contingency planning is like insurance: “You hope you do not need it but you cannot afford not to have it.” Producers who wait until a problem presents itself may find available alternatives will be limited. Good records and visible identification can ease the pain of a disaster.
“The potential for ice storms, thunderstorms, tornadoes and wildfire is always a threat, typically hitting someone somewhere,” Anderson said. “Cleaning up after a severe storm or wildfire is difficult enough. Losing valuable cattle brings additional financial hardship to the situation.”
Cattle loss can occur in several scenarios. Livestock may be killed, lost or even stolen during a stormy situation. Branding today is still the most recognized and accepted means of indicating ownership of cattle in North America. Make use of the practice.
“Eventually, other methods such as electronic chipping may become the standard for identification, but until this procedure becomes a more economical and practical alternative, producers should utilize the time-tested, permanent and universal method of branding,” Anderson said.
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