Weather will dictate if the U.S. beef herd is rebuilt

Farm Forum

When it comes to America’s beef herd expansion, success may come down to a Final Four of Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.

“These four states accounted for 31 percent of the U.S. beef cow herd on Jan. 1, 2014,” said Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension livestock marketing specialist. “The ability of these states to maintain herd expansion plans will likely determine the overall impact on the U.S. beef cow inventory this year.”

Areas of drought and northern climes struggling through the last vestiges of winter potentially stand to have a significant negative effect on U.S. beef herd expansion.

“Moisture conditions are adequate to abundant in most of the eastern half of the country,” Peel said. “Marginal drought conditions are the norm in the middle of the country with persistent severe drought conditions throughout much of the nation’s western region.”

Forage and crop conditions should improve rapidly in the Delta and Southeast in the next few weeks. Cool temperatures – including soil temperatures – are delaying forage growth and crop planting in the Midwest, Northern Plains and northern Rocky Mountain region. Warm and dry conditions are forecast for the Southwest and western mountain regions as well as the West Coast.

“Producers in wet regions will move forward with production plans given the advent of warmer temperatures,” Peel said. “Producers in drought areas will remain entrenched waiting for improving conditions.”

Texas, Oklahoma, California, Nevada and New Mexico currently have the largest areas of severe drought.

“It’s the beef producers in the marginal drought areas who must be prepared to move quickly to either act aggressively if conditions improve or to act defensively if drought conditions worsen,” Peel said.

According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, five of the top 10 beef-cattle-producing states have the largest percent of their state’s area in marginal drought conditions. These include Iowa at 57 percent; Kansas at 85 percent; Nebraska at 61 percent; Oklahoma at 54 percent and Texas at 39 percent.

With the exception of Iowa, all of the states showed strong indications of beef herd expansion with significant increases in beef replacement heifers as of Jan. 1, 2014.

“In fact, the increase in replacement heifers in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas was 132,000 head, which is more than the net increase of 90,200 head of beef replacement heifers in the rest of the country,” Peel said. “In addition, both Kansas and Oklahoma had 2013 increases in the beef cow herd.”

Current weather predictions suggest improving moisture conditions in eastern Texas and Oklahoma, and much of Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa. Drought conditions are predicted to persist into summer from southwest Kansas to areas south and west, including western Oklahoma and Texas as well as New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, California and Oregon.

“These last six states accounted for nearly 8 percent of beef cows as of Jan. 1, 2014,” Peel said. “An El Niño is forecast to develop this summer or fall which will likely bring some relief to much of this region but possibly not soon enough to avoid additional liquidation in the first half of 2014.”

If current forecasts are realized, improved conditions in the central Great Plains and eastern Southern Plains may be enough to support limited beef cow herd expansion in 2014.

“Conditions in this region will likely either improve or deteriorate with typical warm and windy spring weather in the next few weeks, so the U.S. beef industry will have a better idea in the near future whether or not the support is there,” Peel said. “Of course, forage and water supplies will tighten rapidly and soon without moisture.”

Peel said failure to sustain beef herd expansion in the central and southern Great Plains will result in no growth or more herd liquidation for the entire country in 2014.