When Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist, looks at the current U.S. drought map, he sees too much red and brown.

“According to the latest Drought Monitor, five states among the top 10 beef cattle states have the largest areas (percent of state area) of marginal drought conditions (D1 and D2 on the D0 to D4 scale), including Iowa (57%); Kansas (85%); Nebraska (61%); Oklahoma (54%); and Texas (39%),” Peel explains in his weekly market comments.“With the exception of Iowa, all of these states showed strong indications of herd expansion with significant increases in beef replacement heifers on Jan. 1… These four states accounted for 31% of the U.S. beef cowherd on Jan. 1, and the ability of these states to maintain herd expansion plans will likely determine the overall impact on the U.S. beef cow inventory in 2014.”

Unfortunately, Peel points out the current weather outlooks expect drought to persist into the summer from southwest Kansas to areas south and west. That includes western Oklahoma, West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, California and Oregon.

“These last six states accounted for nearly 8% of beef cows on Jan. 1, 2014,” Peel says.“An El Niño is forecast to develop this summer or fall, which will likely bring some relief to much of this region but perhaps not soon enough to avoid additional liquidation in the first half of 2014.”

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Conversely, other parts of the country anticipate improving moisture conditions, although forage has been delayed by the long, frigid winter.

“If current forecasts are realized, improved conditions in the central Great Plains and eastern Southern Plains may be enough to support limited beef cowherd expansion in 2014,” Peel says.“However, conditions in this region will likely either improve or deteriorate with typical warm and windy spring weather in the next few weeks.Forage and water supplies will tighten rapidly and soon without moisture. Failure to sustain herd expansion plans in the Central and Southern Plains will result in no growth or more herd liquidation for the entire country in 2014. The next few weeks will be critical in these states and has implications for the entire beef cattle industry.”

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