Dr. Curt Lacy (UGA)
Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC)
Monday, May 6, 2013 was the first week pasture and range conditions were included in the USDA-NASS Crop Progress Report. After two years of drought, the 2013 season generally opened with poor conditions and delayed green-up. Overall, U.S. pasture and range conditions are much worse than where 2012 started with over 35% being rated poor and very poor, the two worst categories. Last year, only 17% was rated in the two worst condition categories and the prior 5-year average (2007 through 2011) was 18%. This year is actually the worst first week dating back to 1995, when USDA began this report.
In both 2011 and 2012, drought conditions accelerated throughout the year and peaked in early fall. But there have been years that moved the other direction. For example, nationally 1996 improved throughout the year. Notably, 1996 was the worst first week prior to this year. Of course, it’s too early to tell how this year will unfold.
Regionally, the current picture is quite bleak. The LMIC groups states into six regions: West, Southern Plains, Great Plains, Corn Belt, Northeast, and the Southeast. Out of these six regions only the Southeast has improved pasture and range conditions compared to last year’s. All the other five regions show much poorer starting points than last year. Some regions have recently received precipitation, but normal pasture green-up has been delayed due to cold temperatures. The West and the Great Plains are both at record poor levels for the first week of May. The Southern Plains is at its third poorest (worst was 2011), the Corn Belt is experiencing is second worst (poorest start was 1996), and the Northeast, although drier than last year, is actually better than their 15-year average.
Looking at the national drought monitor, conditions are generally worse than they were a year ago. At the end of April, the percent area in severe drought both in categories D3-D4 had nearly doubled from a year earlier. Essentially, areas that were afflicted with drought last year have deepened in intensity, while the total national area affected has largely remained unchanged.
Timely rains will be required this spring and summer to allow any improvement in pasture and range conditions. Regions short on pasture and range will see little year-on-year increase in hay production. Many livestock producers may continue to be faced with relatively high cost hay.