"Every summer seems hotter than the last, but few cattle producers can remember a year when so many areas were suffering from all-time record heat and drought conditions at the same time," say Ag Marketing Service analysts.

"Plains pastures are parched from North Dakota to south Texas and from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. Northern Plains ranchers are weaning calves a good 60 days early in an attempt to conserve enough grass to allow them to maintain their cow herds. These producers have spent generations improving the quality and performance of their cattle to ensure weaning weights well over 600 lbs. in a normal year. But normal years have become abnormal and many of this year's calves will be pulled off the cows weighing under 400 lbs.," the reporters say.

In dry parts where standing forage or hay can be found, it's getting too expensive to be considered a solution. And as some folks in the Dakotas told us last week, though feed is a problem, the driving force in some areas is a lack of water; ponds and dugouts gone dry or shallow and of harmfully poor quality. And with diesel at and over $3/gal., hauling feed in or finding cattle a temporary home is losing its appeal.

For the week ending July 31, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) reports:

  • Corn -- 91% is at or beyond the silking stage, which is the same as last year and 9% ahead of average. 25% advanced to the Dough Stage, compared to 24% last year and 21% for the five-year average. 56% is rated Good or better, compared to 53% last year.
  • Soybeans -- Blooming has begun on 87% of the acreage, 2% behind last year, but 6% ahead of normal. Blooming was at or ahead of normal in all states but Indiana. 53% was setting pods, 1% ahead of last year and 12% ahead of normal. 53% is rated Good or better; 54% was at the same time last year.
  • Winter Wheat -- 91% of the acreage has been harvested. That's 3% ahead of last year and 4% ahead of the normal pace.
  • Spring Wheat -- 22% of the crop is in the bin, which is 15% ahead of last year and 16% ahead of the five-year average. 32% is rated Good or better, compared to 68% last year.
  • Barley -- Heading advanced to 96%, compared to 99% at this time last year and 98% for normal. 51% is rated Good or better, compared to 72% last year.
  • Sorghum -- 52% of the acreage is in the heading stage, which is 2% ahead of last year and 3% ahead of average. 23% was at or beyond turning color, 3% ahead of last year and 2% ahead of normal. 32% is ranked Good or better, compared to 48% last year.
  • Oats -- 55% of the acreage is harvested, which is 9% ahead of last year and 17% ahead of average. 31% is rated Good or better, compared to 61% last year.
  • Pasture -- 20% is rated Good and 3% is rated Excellent, compared to 34% and 5%, respectively last year. 24% is rated Poor and 24% is ranked Very Poor, compared to 18% and 10% respectively at the same time last year.
States with the worst pasture conditions -- at least 30% of the acreage rated poor or worse -- include: Alabama (82%); Arizona (81%); Arkansas (48%); Colorado (67%); Georgia (65%); Iowa (48%); Kansas (52%); ; Minnesota (65%); Mississippi (59%); Missouri (66%); Montana (39%); Nebraska (70%); New Mexico (57%); North Dakota (71%); Oklahoma (72%); South Carolina (31%); South Dakota (70%); Tennessee (39%); Texas (74%); Wisconsin (54%); and Wyoming (71%).

States with the lushest pasture conditions -- at least 40% rated good or better -- include: Florida (60%); Idaho (58%); Illinois (49%); Indiana (74%); Kentucky (63%); Maine (77%); Maryland (57%); Michigan (49%); Nevada (42%); New York (71%); North Carolina (53%); Ohio (71%); Pennsylvania (64%); Utah (51%); Virginia (45%); Washington (53%); and West Virginia (63%).