Cooler temperatures in recent weeks and rains in some parts that haven’t seen any substantial rainfall in a year or so have lifted hopes in the driest parts of the nation.

It started with rains in the East and Southeast, spawned by tropical storms and hurricanes. Last week and over the weekend, some portions of the Southern Plains received rains, too, raising the prospects of at least getting some wheat planted for pasture.

However, as Texas AgriLife Extension Service folks explained last week, "Ranchers continued selling off cattle, but were being limited on the number they could take to sale barns due to the large amount of cattle being sold. Lack of grazing, hay and the high cost of supplements made it almost impossible to sustain cattle through the drought. Some producers were worried that if they sold off cattle, high cattle prices in the future will keep them from getting back into the cattle business. Some of the big ranches shipped cows out of state or to the feedlots to maintain their herds."

They also report that hay prices have increased significantly, especially in Southern areas. Some of the failed corn was likely salvaged for feed in some areas.

Farther north, areas of the Midwest became increasingly drier, further reducing current corn crop prospects, say analysts in last week's monthly Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook. "One implication is that only the most valuable cows will justify expenses for hay supplies to feed them through the winter, and calves will likely continue being placed in feedlots, whether on growing rations or full feed rations."

According to the Crop Production report released this month, corn production is projected at 12.5 billion bu., 3% lower than the August estimate. Yield is projected at 148.1 bu./acre, 4.9 bu./acre less than the August estimate; yield last year was 152.8. If realized, USDA says that would be the lowest yield since 2005.

The September World Agriculture and Supply Demand Estimates raised the season-average price for corn 30¢/bu. on both ends of the range to $6.50-$7.50.

Overall, those reports pegged U.S. corn production lower, soybean and wheat ending stocks higher (due to higher expected imports; lower exports and food use).

"Taken together, the September USDA reports are negative for near-term soybean and wheat price prospects. Many observers, however, believe the soybean production forecast will be reduced in October," says Darrel Good, University of Illinois ag economist.

According to Good, the reports were generally supportive for corn prices. Some analysts interpreted USDA's sharp reduction in its forecast of corn consumption as a sign of significant demand weakness, he says.

"The reduction, however, was more a statement of availability. Some corn demand weakness is anticipated in 2012, but for now, prices will have to stay high in order to trim consumption," Good explains. "There is also some expectation that the October production forecast will be slightly smaller than the September forecast."

For the week ending Sept. 12, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service:

Corn – 97% is at the dough stage, 1% less than last year but 1% ahead of the average. 84% is at the denting stage, compared to 92% a year ago and 82% for average. 29% is mature, compared to 50% last year and 33% for average. 53% is in Good or Excellent condition, compared to 68% a year ago. 20% is rated Poor or Very Poor, compared to 12% a year ago.

Soybeans – 15% are dropping leaves, 18% less than last year and 12% less than the average. 56% is in Good or Excellent condition; 63% was last year.

Sorghum – 92% is headed, compared to 100% last year and 97% for average. 63% is coloring, 20% less than last year and 11% less than the average. 32% is mature, 3% less than last year and the average. 23% is harvested, 3% more than last year and 3% less than average. 25% is in Good or Excellent condition; 62% was last year.

Winter wheat – 6% is planted, compared to 8% last year and 10% for average.

Spring Wheat – 83% is harvested, which is 2% more than last year but 4% behind the five-year average.

Oats – 98% is harvested, 1% behind last year and the average.

Barley – 85% is harvested, which is 4% ahead of last year but 3% behind normal.

Pasture – 32% of the nation’s pasture and range is rated as Good or Excellent, 12% less than at the same time last year. 42% is rated Poor or Very Poor, compared to 23% a year ago.