The worst of the U.S. Drought Monitor categories, exceptional drought, is broadening its hold on Oklahoma.
Thursday's report shows 38.86 percent of the state is experiencing exceptional drought, compared to 16.03 percent the previous week. In all, 100 percent of Oklahoma falls in the severe to exceptional drought categories.
One such experience would be bad, but this year makes two consecutive.
“The second year of drought is challenging,” Oklahoma Agriculture Secretary Jim Reese said. “Producers were certainly looking for some relief. We would love to take advantage of these market prices. Cattle producers sold a lot of cattle last year and for the most part are operating smaller herds to get through this.”
This drought got a later start than that of last year.
The 2010-2011 drought began in September/October 2010 and lasted all winter, spring and summer, Reese said. As a result, there was no grass in the spring so producers were hauling hay and selling livestock almost immediately in 2011.
The drought began more in May/June this year and has been intense over the last 90 days. In the U.S. Drought Monitor report three months ago, 3.54 percent of Oklahoma was in extreme to exceptional drought. Thursday's reports shows 94.59 percent in that category.
Reese said on the positive side those who received some rains into this spring had some grass, and areas had good wheat and canola harvests with good prices. However, the summer crops including soybeans, milo, corn, cotton, and late hay have received the brunt of this drought, he said.
“Additionally, it adds to the cost of livestock production,” he said.
Multiple rains needed
Reese reiterates that producers can't benefit from good prices if they don't have the crops or livestock to sell.
In addition to seeing the effects of the drought in terms of prices in stores, Oklahomans will likely see other effects, Reese said.
He said one out of nine Oklahoma export dollars is a result of an agricultural product.
“Not having that product to export means a loss of market and a loss of new dollars coming to our state,” he said.
Last year's drought, Reese said, was estimated “to have cost us close to 2 billion dollars.”
Some areas have received rains this week, but the deficits were much greater than the gains. And while any precipitation is a start, multiple rainstorms will be needed.
With that in mind, Reese explained, this drought “is still costing all Oklahomans.”
Nathan Anderson, the Oklahoma State University Extension educator in Payne County, said producers are facing the same problems as last year. Reduced and/or no forage and hay supplies and limited pond water are the immediate issues, he said. Thursday's report shows Payne County is among those counties facing exceptional drought.
Anderson said wildfires are still a major concern.
Fires that have occurred in the last two weeks have eliminated some producer's total pasture and hay reserves for the winter. The fires have left nothing behind. Many also lost equipment and structures and even their homes. The fires have eliminated some people's livelihood.
“This year's drought is worse than last year in the fact that it encompassed a larger area,” he said. “Last year, producers were purchasing hay from neighboring states. This year's drought has also affected them and beyond so there are no surpluses of hay around. This year's drought is also affecting grain production. With reduced grain supplies, this year's feed cost will sharply increase again affecting a producer's bottom line.”
Again this year, producers will be faced with deciding to reduce livestock numbers, sell out or prepare for increased expenses to provide adequate supplementation to their livestock, he said.
Stan Fimple, OSU Extension educator in Pawnee County, said producers in his county, which is also in exceptional drought, are facing a shortage of forage, water and high feed and hay prices and crop losses.
“Crop producers are facing the potential of a total loss with their soybeans,” he said. “Yields have been drastically affected as it is, and if we don't get a rain real soon it will be a total loss.
“Livestock producers need to be planting wheat in the next four weeks for fall and winter forage. If we don't get a rain soon that will delay planting, which in turn will reduce the amount of forage available for grazing this fall. And if it stays, dry-area wheat producers will be affected.”
He said some producers already reduced cattle numbers due to the lack of forage and high hay prices.
Hoping for changes
Gary McManus, of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, said the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook released Thursday indicates the possible persistence of drought through November for most of the state. Improvements are expected in areas surrounding Oklahoma.
“There is rain in the forecast,” McManus said Thursday. “That rain and milder temperatures will be just what the doctor ordered to hopefully get some areas of the state decent relief.
“Keep in mind that a lot of rain is needed to bring us out of drought, especially considering the impacts are compounded by last year's drought as well. According to an estimate by the CPC (Climate Prediction Center), from 9 inches to more than 15 inches will be needed to bring the state completely out of drought.”