"This is a once-in-a-generation drought," says Billy Cook, senior vice president and director of the Agricultural Division for the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation at Ardmore, OK. "We haven't seen this type of heat and lack of precipitation since the record-setting drought of the mid-1950s or even the Dust Bowl."

He was referring, of course, to the historic drought engulfing the Southern Plains and Southwest.

According to Hugh Aljoe, consultation program manager for the Noble Foundation, most crops in the drought areas have produced only about 25% of the total yield compared to last year. Some farmers have experienced almost complete crop losses, as in the case of wheat.

And that's just Oklahoma. Move south across the Red River and most of Texas has been declared a disaster area due to the "exceptional" and "extreme" drought conditions. By the first part of August, more than 90% of Texas was in an extreme drought, and 75% in an exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Throughout the Lone Star State – home to more beef cows than any other state – with the exception of small pockets where there has been rain, producers continue to struggle with dropping irrigation-well and stock-water tank levels, desiccated pastures and hay shortages, according to reports from Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

"All range and pastures are in extremely bad condition," says Lyle Zoeller, AgriLife Extension agent for Coryell County, west of Waco. "All classes of livestock are being fed heavily. Many cows are going to local market, as well as most calves 300 lbs. and over. There is no hay available in the area; most is coming from out of state. Low-water sources are now forcing sales of cattle."

"Producers continue to cull herds as grazing gets shorter," says Mark Currie, AgriLife Extension agent for Polk County, south of Lufkin. "Time is running out for producers to make enough hay for their herds for winter feeding – even if they survive the summer. Livestock water continues to be a problem for many producers as stock tanks and creeks get lower or dry up."

Auction and direct marketing receipts were 27% higher for Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, from April 30 to Aug. 13 (Table 1). Those states account for roughly 27% of the nation's beef cows. Increased marketings are amplified when you consider fewer calves from a smaller herd, but some of those calves will likely resurface in the marketing channel this fall.

The early movement is also reflected in July feedlot placement numbers, which were up 22%, mostly calves weighing less than 600 lbs. (see "Outside Markets Pressure Prices")

Incidentally, the Noble Foundation recently launched a new online resource to assist farmers and ranchers dealing with the current drought – www.noble.org/drought.

"This is a comprehensive resource that should answer many of the questions that come with struggling through this drought," Aljoe says. "This is reliable information that will help farmers and ranchers meet their specific challenges. Of course, the Noble Foundation consultants are always here to help in person, too."

By the way, if history and current sea-surface temperature trends hold true, specialists say the La Niña that spawned the current historic drought in the Southern Plains and Southwest is likely to return this winter, albeit weaker than last winter's. Through late spring and summer, neutral conditions prevailed between La Niña and El Niño.