Feeder Cattle Have No Winter Home, Markets React

Beefs and Beliefs

Southern Plains still dry, so no wheat pasture, so feeder cattle have nowhere to go.

Published on: November 7, 2012

Been wondering why feeder cattle prices are soft?

One look at the latest drought monitor map should tell you. We're still in serious drought here in the Southern Plains.

I shot this picture of the wheat in the field behind my house in central Oklahoma, just south of the Kansas border. It was planted the last week of October by my farmer-neighbor, so it's clearly not wheat for pasture. However, the wheat pasture is just about that poor everywhere one travels and looks.

Even a month ago Oklahoma economist Derrell Peel was warning about drought and the fact wheat pasture would be minimal this winter. He said, "All of this confirms that fall wheat forage production for grazing will be minimal."

Thin, weak and just hanging on, this wheat is too typical of low to no soil moisture across the Southern Plains and actually most of the Great Plains.
Thin, weak and just hanging on, this wheat is too typical of low to no soil moisture across the Southern Plains and actually most of the Great Plains.

A recent synopsis of wheat conditions in Texas only confirms the poor prognosis. Here's a very abbreviated version of this: Central region -- cool-season forages need rain. Coastal Bend -- most areas remain dry. East -- majority of area got little to no rain. Far west -- soil moisture levels were dropping in most counties. North -- soil moisture was short in most counties. Panhandle -- soil-moisture levels mostly were short. Rolling plains -- conditions are getting "desperately dry" in some areas. South -- Soil moisture varies widely but generally 20-80% short. South Plains -- dry. Southeast -- forage development and root growth was limited by lack of moisture. West Central -- rain needed in all counties.

The newest drought monitor map shows the biggest portion of cattle country is still in drought. Prices follow because that lowers demand.
The newest drought monitor map shows the biggest portion of cattle country is still in drought. Prices follow because that lowers demand.

The only exception was the Southwest region of Texas, which claims pastures and livestock in "good condition."

Kansas is not as big in wheat pasturage as her neighbors to the south but from my travels there and from the latest NASS report, there appears to be little wheat pasture there, either.

The Nov. 5 report from USDA's NASS said: "Topsoil moisture supplies were at 39% very short, 34% short, 27% adequate, and none surplus. Subsoil moisture supplies were at 53% very short, 34% short, 13% adequate, and none surplus. Moisture is still needed throughout the state to establish the 2013 wheat crop and replenish ponds for livestock."

The problem is that literally millions of cattle have for 40-plus years flowed into the Southern Plains to add value to millions and millions of acres of otherwise relatively low-value wheat. The market isn't there this year so prices are soft.

Seems the beef industry can't buy a break this year and we're certainly out of luck.