ARDMORE — Don't be fooled by all the rain that has fallen this spring: The drought in Oklahoma may not be over.
That's according to The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, a nonprofit agricultural institute in Ardmore.
“Some farmers are calling this spring the best they've ever seen,” wrote Adam Calaway, foundation spokesman, in a news release. “Steady rains produced a flush of annual grasses, yielding the most abundant hay crop many can remember.”
Growth has been so good that Chuck Coffey, a senior pasture and range consultant with the foundation, described it as a “Garden of Eden” in Oklahoma.
But, he cautioned, we're not clear of the consequences of last year's punishing drought.
Last summer marked the driest four months in Oklahoma since 1921, Calaway noted. Farmers lost complete crops; the lack of food forced them to reduce their livestock herds. The arid summer had a negative $6 billion impact on Oklahoma and Texas.
There's reason to believe it's not over.
Despite the spring rain, “April was still warmer and drier than average for the region,” Calaway wrote. “According to the U.S. Drought Monitor ... parts of southwestern Oklahoma and much of Texas are still experiencing abnormally dry conditions.”
As spring grasses have subsided, farmers have noted severe damage to their perennial pastures, he wrote. It's too soon to tell if the grasses and legumes necessary for feeding ruminant animals will rebound. If they don't, hay prices will increase sharply.
“Buy hay now and expect to feed it earlier than normal,” Coffey said in the release. “Last year's drought was one of the worst in history. We can't expect to get over it in one year.”
Farmers should treat fields with nitrogen to maximize the effects of summer rainfall, he said. Producers should plan now for how they'll respond if drought conditions return.