Nationwide, winter wheat seeding is projected to decline 14% in 2010, according to the recent “Winter Wheat Seeding” report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). In the heart of wheat-grazing country, the decline ranges from 8-14%.

At the same time, Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University (OSU) Extension livestock marketing specialist, says there appears to be more wheat grazing in the Southern Plains this year than last. In Oklahoma, for instance, USDA estimates 38% of the winter wheat is being grazed, 11% more than last year and 7% more than the five-year average. That’s despite the long planting season and slow stocking. After driving across a wide swath of the Southern Plains, Peel’s windshield assessment reported in OSU’s “Cow-Calf Corner:”

  • “Many of the cattle appear to be fairly small. Many wheat pastures were stocked relatively late with lightweight cattle. The recent blizzard and cold weather has no doubt slowed animal performance as well. Some producers were probably already thinking about grazing out wheat and current weakness in wheat prices may make wheat graze-out even more attractive in the coming weeks. I don’t expect a large number of cattle to be bought specifically for wheat graze-out, but it appears that many of the cattle grazing this winter would be available for graze-out if the owners so choose.
  • “Feeder cattle price relationships generally favor putting some additional pounds on animals with values of gain that are the highest for taking animals from roughly 650-850 lbs. Additionally, a producer looking at May feeder futures has seen a $5/cwt. rally since the lows a month ago and a better opportunity to lock in an acceptable price for cattle coming off graze-out wheat in May.
  • “…many of the cattle currently grazing are on very limited forage. The recent prolonged cold weather stopped wheat growth and burned back the wheat forage with the result that many of the heavily stocked wheat pastures are rapidly depleting forage supplies. Although warmer weather this week will allow limited wheat growth to restart, many pastures will likely be unable to get ahead of grazing demand for the next six weeks or so.”