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Beefs and Beliefs

Looks like a tough summer for forage and cattle

Alan Newport Hoofprint in droughty soil
Soil moisture is lacking across much of beef cattle country, and weather forecasts don't offer much hope for change.
Much of cattle country is short on forage and short on soil moisture. Will that spell trouble for beef producers?

This is shaping up to be a difficult forage year, if you look at current drought maps, long-term weather forecasts, and the May 1 USDA report on seriously declining US hay stocks

The latest drought monitor map shows a large area of dry soil and stressed forage across a very large area of the Southwest, Southern Plains and the Northern Plains. Further, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is suggesting the droughty areas will stay relatively dry -- although with some relief in the central Plains -- through the summer. See the map in this story or go to the webpage to read more.


One of the major factors in long-term weather is the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the central Pacific ocean, a cyclical pattern of warmer and cooler sea surface temperatures that affect rainfall in the US and elsewhere.

La Nina officially ended in April, as sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific returned to neutral conditions, which means within one-half degree Celsius of the long-term average temperatures.

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is now predicting ENSO-neutral conditions from now through September-November 2018, with the possibility of El Niño nearing 50% by winter months in the northern hemisphere.

Keep in mind that both El Nino and La Nina have the most pronounced effects on moisture in wintertime. Therefore the so-called "neutral" conditions suggest reasonably strong odds that whatever your typical summer weather pattern, that's what you can expect this year.

The May Crop Production report showed May 1 hay stocks were down to 15.7 million tons, which compares with 24.4 million tons on May 1, 2017.  The Livestock Marketing Information Center says it is the lowest May 1 stocks report since 2013.

LMIC also says, "Nearly half of US states saw declines of 30% or more in hay stocks. Those drops were not limited to drought areas. Only 16 states showed higher year-over-year May 1 stocks. In critical drought areas of TX and OK declines were over 50%, implying supplemental feeding as 2017 combined hay production declines down only 11%. Surrounding states also have large declines in inventory. Louisiana was down 63%, Missouri fell 61% and Kansas by 30%."

It seems possible this forage deficit could help end the national expansion of the cow herd, but time will tell.

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