Sponsored By
Kansas Farmer Logo

Western U.S. drought improvingWestern U.S. drought improving

USDA ERS finds drought conditions have improved across many western states, including Kansas.

Jennifer M. Latzke

July 28, 2023

2 Min Read
Cracked, drought-stricken soil and plant
DROUGHT LESSENS: In May, these were some of the smaller cracks in this wheat field in western Kansas. There’s still a long way to go to breaking the severe drought that many Western U.S. farmers have endured — but the recent rains are helping. Jennifer M. Latzke

Anyone trying to get wheat out of the field this year knows firsthand — the rains have returned to the Plains.

And according to the USDA Economic Research Service, the western U.S. is starting to feel the benefits.

The Western U.S. includes all the states west of Kansas. As of July 2023, drought conditions have improved across much of the Western half of the country when compared not only with earlier in the year, but also with 2021 and 2022.

Drought clasifications over years

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, on July 11, 3% of land in the West was classified as experiencing extreme or exceptional drought, with an additional 8% classified as severe. This is down from June 2023, when 18% of land in the West was classified as in extreme or exceptional drought.

Significant precipitation and snowpack accumulation over the 2022-23 winter and spring reduced the prevalence of drought in the area, notably in California.

However, conditions remain dry in Kansas and Nebraska, where severe or worse drought conditions affect 55% and 48% of land, respectively. This despite rain events that have delayed wheat harvest across much of the region.

Data reported by U.S. Drought Monitor show Western drought conditions intensified during summer 2021, then gradually subsided between October and December 2021. They intensified again in the first half of 2022 before starting to subside again.

For agriculture, drought means diminished crop and livestock outputs and reduced profitability if adaptive measures such as irrigation are not used. Drought also reduces the quantity of snowpack and streamflow available for diversions to irrigated agricultural land. These impacts can reverberate throughout local, regional and national economies.

Take alfalfa, for example. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, as of April 4, approximately 12% of alfalfa hay acreage in the United States was experiencing severe, extreme or exceptional drought conditions. This number is a decline from the peak of drought conditions in August 2021, when 52% of alfalfa hay acreage was affected by severe or worse drought conditions. That has potential repercussions for livestock feed and eventually consumer prices for meat and dairy.

Find additional information on the USDA Economic Research Service’s Newsroom page Drought in the Western United States.

USDA ERS contributed to this article.

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like