Weather was a tremendous challenge for farmers across the country in 2019, delaying or even preventing them from planting their crops and causing great uncertainty in the corn and soybean markets. That weather also led to the worst-reported crop conditions since 2012.
But earlier in summer 2019 the rainy weather had a different effect on range and pasture across much of the United States, creating record ratings of good-to-excellent pasture and rangeland. Those ratings declined substantially as the year went on.
This year we’re seeing the opposite situation, with drought conditions across much of cattle country taking a toll.
In the continental United States, 49 percent as of July 7 is experiencing drought to some degree. That’s a significant increase from the previous year, and an increase from a reported 24 percent at the beginning of 2020. About two-thirds of the western United States is experiencing some form of drought, with key cattle regions some of the worst hit. Much of Oklahoma and Texas are experiencing drought, as well as Colorado and parts of Kansas and Nebraska. Drought classifications range from D0, or abnormally dry, to D4, exceptional drought. As Figure 2 shows, 23 percent of the country is experiencing a D0 drought, 15 percent of the country is experiencing D1 drought, 9 percent of the country is experiencing D2 drought and 2 percent of the country is experiencing D3 drought.
Pasture, rangeland conditions worsen
Figure 3 shows the divergence of 2020’s crop and condition ratings from the past few years, as well as the five-year average. At the start of the year pasture and rangeland conditions were mostly in line with recent years, coming in a bit less than the five-year average. But due to the dryness and heat of the summer, the percentage of acres rated good-to-excellent nationally has decrease to 36 percent.
That compares to 68 percent in 2019 and 55 percent in the five-year average. We have seen the effects of the drought reflected similarly in the percentage of pasture and rangeland rated poor-to-very-poor. The year started with the percentage of poor-to-very-poor acres holding steady at 16 percent, about the five-year average. As the drought spread the percentage of acres rated poor-to-very-poor increased to 30 percent, a significant jump from the 8 percent experienced in 2019.
Keep in mind those are national numbers and conditions often vary by state. Regional differences in precipitation and temperature have led the western states and portions of the northeast to experience fewer good-to-excellent conditions than other areas of the country.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are poor-to-very poor conditions. The regional distribution for that category largely follows the good-to-excellent ratings, with poor conditions concentrated in the western U.S. and the Southern Plains, as well as the northeast. New Mexico ranks as the worst in the continental United States, registering almost 60 percent of pasture and rangeland ratings at poor-to-very-poor. California is close behind at 55 percent.
Several states have registered significantly declining conditions throughout June and July this year. For example the amount of pasture and rangeland rated poor-to-very-poor in Wyoming has increased six-fold, climbing from 6 percent to 36 percent during the past eight weeks. Oklahoma followed a similar path, swinging from 9 percent to 24 percent. Texas, another important cattle state, has increased from 26 percent to 39 percent. Colorado also spiked during a similar timeframe, moving from 32 percent to 44 percent rated poor-to-very-poor.
As drought has spread throughout much of the western and southwestern part of the country, pasture and rangeland conditions have suffered. Critical cattle-producing states are experiencing a drastic increase in the amount of pasture and rangeland in their states rated as poor-to-very-poor, while the share of pasture and rangeland rated as good-to-excellent has decreased in much of the rest of the country. Due to the dryness and heat of the summer, the percentage of acres rated good-to-excellent has decreased significantly, to 36 percent nationally.