Clearly, how quickly and to what extent heifer retention takes hold depends on Mother Nature. And the outlook there is good as well.

“El Niño is coming,” says CattleFax weatherman Art Douglas, professor emeritus at Creighton University. “I think this is a real positive thing we’ve got going here.”

Looking at the recent past, he says 2009-10 was an El Niño year. “As you went through the year of 2010, we had a lot of moisture from the western U.S. into the Midwest,” he explains, before the wheels fell off in 2011 and 2012.

He says that pattern will repeat itself this year. “This drought cycle of developing in the Southeast in 2010, spreading into the Southern Plains in 2011, the Midwest in 2012 and moving back to the West Coast is about ready to repeat itself.”

That means for 2014, growing conditions in the Midwest will be nearly ideal, with plenty of rain, warm temperatures in the spring to allow for early fieldwork and germination, then a cooler July and August as the crop pollinates and ears fill.

Drought areas in the West, particularly California and elsewhere on the West Coast, will see some relief this spring, he predicts, along with an increase in moisture into the Midwest and Plains.

For summer, he generally predicts adequate moisture for much of the cattle and corn-producing regions of the country. “The only concern might be below-normal precipitation forecast for the Ohio Valley,” he says.

So while the long-term drought may not be over, and cattlemen will see a repeat of the weather cycle that brought so much grief to various parts of the country the last 2-3 years, Mother Nature might provide at least a breather in 2014.

For many cattlemen, especially in the Southern Plains and the West, it can’t come soon enough.


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