Oklahoma drought-reduction benefits come at a heavy price
For Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist Derrell Peel, awareness of the price paid for reduced drought in the state comes with profound sadness.
“Recent storms culminated in deadly tornadoes and record rain totals in central and eastern Oklahoma that also added to the state’s grisly human toll for May 2013, a direct contrast to the noticeable reduction in severe weather in Oklahoma since the drought began in late 2010,” he said.
In short, the recent storm-related devastation to which many individuals, families, businesses and agricultural operations have been subjected is part of the very same weather pattern that is improving agricultural conditions in Oklahoma.
“My thoughts and sincere best wishes are directed to all those who have suffered the brunt of Mother Nature’s fury, even as there are others whom the recent weather will benefit,” Peel said.
Much of the eastern two-thirds of Oklahoma have experienced significant recharge of soil moisture that will support summer crop and forage production. In terms of cattle production, the intense rainfall has filled surface water supplies in many areas, though coverage has been variable.
“Cattle producers are now able to assess their forage conditions, in many cases for the first time since 2010, and develop management plans for recovery,” Peel said.
In some situations, perennial forage has been lost in whole or in part to drought. In other cases, perennial forage has been overwhelmed by annual weeds and grasses that provide specific management challenges.
“Large quantities of hay have been brought into Oklahoma – often from very distant sources – during the past two years,” Peel said. “Producers should be alert to new weed or other plant species that may have been introduced inadvertently to Oklahoma pastures, as these may pose new management considerations and related input costs.”
However, it is important to realize that drought is by no means gone from Oklahoma, even as a number of producers move forward with the recovery, restoration and rebuilding of their cattle operations.
The drought line now extends approximately two to three counties in from the western border of the state, including the Oklahoma Panhandle and back into north-central counties along the Kansas border.
“Roughly one-third of the state has seen relatively little of the recent moisture and continues to suffer under severe to exceptional drought conditions,” Peel said. “This region includes areas that are typically drier than other parts of the state and are dominated by native range.”
Peel said rangeland in this region of Oklahoma is enduring the third straight summer of drought and remains in extremely poor condition. The exact level of long-term or permanent damage is unknown at this time.
“Though drought challenges remain, improved soil and water conditions in central and eastern Oklahoma should provide indirect help by making alternative sources of forage and hay more readily accessible compared to the past several years,” he said.
Cattle and calves represent the No. 1 agricultural commodity produced in Oklahoma, accounting for 46 percent of total agricultural cash receipts, according to National Agricultural Statistics Service data.