My View From The Country

April Snowstorms Bring May Drought Relief

Exceptional drought still exists in some areas, but the level of improvement across the nation has been phenomenal.

Moisture has been abundant in April. In fact, some areas of the Midwest are even experiencing flooding, and concern is growing over how the excessive moisture might delay fieldwork. It’s still way too early to have significant concerns about a late-planted crop, but if wet conditions continue to persist in parts of the Corn Belt, we’ll soon start to hear concerns about trend-line yields. Soil temperatures will be another growing concern, as the Arctic air blasts have kept April much cooler than normal.

The bright side, however, is that it’s still early for the planting concerns to be a factor. Plus, with today’s equipment, a lot of corn can be planted in a hurry.

On the beef side, we’re seeing all-time record price levels, but the expected uptick in beef demand that comes with the start of spring hasn’t happened, thanks to the excess moisture and below-normal temperatures that have inhibited outdoor grilling. In addition, the drought index continues to improve.

Even my part of eastern Colorado, where recent sandstorms drew comparisons to the days of the Dust Bowl, has received some much-needed moisture. Exceptional drought still exists, however, in parts of South Texas, eastern and southern Colorado, and a few other areas. Still, the level of improvement across the nation has been nothing short of phenomenal.

We aren’t at the point that we can declare expansion will begin, or that cow prices will skyrocket, but the concerns about massive liquidation have largely subsided. It appears that drought-related liquidation will be more regionalized, and will be mediated by the recent moisture.

While the long-range forecasts haven’t changed much, April has certainly improved the outlook going into the summer. There will be record amounts of cornstalks and other residues available next fall, but traditional forage resources will remain tight. That’s especially true for those who will be need old crop and new crop to get them through the summer.

Mother Nature remains a beautiful and unpredictable factor. This week was a prime example. Early in the week, I saw a news story about 3-4-ft. sand drifts and Dust Bowl comparisons; a few days later, April is ending with snow drifts in some places nearly as large as those sand drifts.

With Monday being Earth Day, it was impossible not to contemplate how far we’ve come from a conservation standpoint. Weather conditions have been far drier than during the Dust Bowl days, but our improved farming, irrigation and grazing practices prevented a recurrence of the catastrophe of the ’30s.

 

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In our part of the world, there’s been a very discernible trend toward calving later, and many ranchers have moved from February-March calving to April-May. The logic makes sense for a variety of ranchers and the trend is apt to continue, but this April reminded us all that Mother Nature can still find a way to punish even good decisions.

As always, it’s important to keep recent weather events in perspective. According to both auction receipts and cow slaughter data, cow liquidation continues to run extremely high. Heifer placement data also indicates that even if 2013 turns out much better than expected for moisture, 2013 will still be a liquidation year. The converse is that if we enter into fall 2013 with widespread moisture improvement, and a positive moisture outlook in range and feed conditions in 2014, we could see absolutely incredible demand levels for females.

It’s way too early to say any long-term trends are firmly entrenched. I may look back at this week as merely an anomaly, but it sure has been fun to wake up with snow on the ground, boxed-beef prices rising, cattle prices moving higher, and corn prices moving lower.

 

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contribur Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.

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Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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