Forage Production in 2020, A Mixed Bag

Forage Production in 2020, A Mixed Bag

The latest forage production outlook was released last week from USDA and its partners.  The forage outlook, called Grass-Cast, shows three different forage production scenarios for the Great Plains (or at least most of the Plains) that could occur between now and August 31st.  Those scenarios are based on whether we get above, near-average, or below average rainfall for the growing season.  Production is in  “pounds per acre of peak standing biomass”.

Grass-Cast is designed to be used with NOAA’s Temperature and Precipitation Seasonal Outlooks.  The latest outlook maps for June-July-August are below.  As you can see the odds are tilted for a warm summer for most of the country.  Precipitation on the other hand–and the more challenging forecast to make–is favoring dry conditions in parts of the West and Pacific Northwest, and wet conditions in the Midwest and East.

Forage Outlook

Parts of the Great Plains are seeing precipitation deficits going back to January and beyond.  These deficits have been incorporated in the Grass-Cast Outlook, which is why two of the forage scenarios are showing reduced forage production for many counties this growing season.  To give you an idea of what this looks like take a look at the interactive map for  Near-Normal Precipitation forecast scenario.   Areas in red or orange show reduced production even if rainfall is close to average for the rest of the summer.  The second interactive map shows precipitation deficits for each county from January through May and hopefully will give you an idea of just how far below or above average you are for the calendar year.

Interactive Maps Showing the Forage Production Forecast if Precipitation is Near-Normal this Summer

Precipitation: Odds of Catching Up

Looking at the current precipitation deficits, what are the odds we could see average or above average conditions for the rest of the summer using historical data going back to 1895?  Thankfully we have a way to do that at the level of an individual county  using the County Precipitation Analysis Tool that was developed by Dr. Becky Bolinger at Colorado State University.  The graph on the right shows how frequently precipitation in June-July-August has been below or above average since 1895 using Baca County, Colorado as an example.  Since 1895, summer precipitation in Baca County has been above average 41 times, or about 33% of the time, since 1895.  So, Baca County has a one-third chance of at least getting to average precipitation, which using the Grass-Cast scenario of Near-Normal means forage production could be reduced by about 20% from average conditions.  Not a great outlook for Baca County.  They have been in a precipitation hole for sometime and will take an extraordinary summer to get them out of it.

For those in the area covered by the Grass-Cast Outlook and would like to see how likely your county could see average or above-average precipitation this summer we have provided the County Precipitation Analysis Tool below.  To do the analysis similar to the example, choose your state and county.  For the month choose August and for the number of months choose 3-months.  That will show a frequency distribution of precipitation from June-July-August for your county from 1895 to present.

County Precipitation Analysis Tool

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2020 Summer Outlook

2020 Summer Outlook

The 2020 Summer Temperature Outlook (Jun-Jul-Aug) is indicating fairly high probabilities of above-normal temperatures for a large part of the U.S.  Parts of the West, states along the Gulf Coast, and the East Coast have a 60-70% chance of seeing hotter than normal temperatures this summer. The largest probabilities (above 70 percent) are centered over the Four Corners region due to forecast models picking up on a reduced precipitation trend in the area and declining soil moisture conditions. Equal Chances of below-, near-, or above-normal temperatures are forecast from the upper to middle Mississippi Valley along with parts of the northern to central Great Plains.

Summer Precipitation

The Summer Precipitation Outlook shows a tilt in the odds of above normal precipitation for much of the eastern and central U.S., while below-normal precipitation is more likely across the Pacific Northwest, northern Great Basin, and much of the Rockies. While the odds of reduced precipitation are not solid, the model results are nevertheless troubling given the ongoing drought in parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and the West Coast.

Drought Outlook for Jun-Jul-Aug

With the beginning of the May-June dry season in the West (see the article from Becky Bolinger on the prospects of coming out of a drought during the dry season) it is not looking good for drought improvement in the region.  The precipitation and temperature forecasts and outlooks shown above are indicating the current drought will persist over the next three months and could expand in the Pacific Northwest, the Northern Intermountain Region, parts of central California and the Central Great Basin, which is shown in the latest Seasonal Drought Outlook below.

On the brighter side, drought removal or improvement is expected for parts of the Central and Southern High Plains.  The wet season in full swing in some of these areas and it could be a huge help to improve soil moisture conditions in areas that have been very dry for the last several months.  For the areas of drought near the Gulf Coast, nearly all official precipitation outlooks favor drought removal for most areas.

May 4th Crop Progress Report: First Pasture and Range Condition Estimates of Growing Season

May 4th Crop Progress Report: First Pasture and Range Condition Estimates of Growing Season

USDA released its latest Crop Progress report on May 4th.  Included in the report is the first reports of pasture and range conditions for the 48 contiguous states (map below).

The map combines the percentage of pasture and range in Poor and Very Poor conditions.  Some fairly obvious pockets are showing up in the West, Southern Plains, and the New England. 

Based on precipitation data from April (map below) we are seeing some fairly significant drying trends in the Central Plains, the Southwest and Northern California/Pacific Northwest.

We’re just getting started but drought has a way of sneaking up on people so stay alert out there!

May 1st Beef Cows in Drought

May 1st Beef Cows in Drought

Given what’s going on with the cattle market and smaller numbers of cattle being placed into feedlots we wanted to also take a slightly different look at beef cows and drought this week.  We usually show the US Drought Monitor, which is a compilation of multiple drought indicators, but given the potential for cattle spending a longer period of time on pasture this year we wanted to focus more on precipitation deficits, and so have used data from the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI). 

SPI data are used in the Drought Monitor but so are other indicators which might not correlate as well with grass production.  Based on 2019 survey data from NASS, we estimate there are approximately 18% of beef cows are in at least Moderate Drought.  We do expect areas along the Texas Gulf Coast and into Louisiana to improve, however, parts of the Intermountain West and the West/Pacific Northwest could be headed for a long summer with somewhat limited grass production. 

Subsoil Moisture Update: Dry in the West, Wet in the East

Subsoil Moisture Update: Dry in the West, Wet in the East

USDA is expected to release its first pasture and range report next week for the 2020 growing season.  In anticipation of the report we thought we would take a look at the current state of soil moisture and where we stand with drought around the country.

The map below shows the percent area of subsoils considered in the Very Short and Short categories for each state by USDA.  Note the striking divergence between the West and the Midwest and East.

If you want a better break down for each state, the map below shows a new tool by NASA that estimates root zone soil moisture—among other things—each week for the Contiguous U.S.  The data are from the GRACE satellite mission and are percentiles based on averages between the years 1948-2012.  The most current map paints a fairly somber picture for parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and the West/Pacific Northwest.

Florida Observed the Hottest and Second Driest March on Record. Big Change Compared to March 2019

Florida Observed the Hottest and Second Driest March on Record. Big Change Compared to March 2019

NOAA released their climate rankings this morning (April 8th) for this past March.  What a difference a year makes. Last year we were discussing what a cold, and in some places, extremely wet (i.e. Central Plains) March it had been.  Florida just experienced its warmest and second driest March on record going back to 1895.  Texas observed its third warmest March, but it was also in the top 10 wettest March on record (see the below maps for your state). What gives?

If you break things down a bit and look at variation within the states, you see there was a big break between the northern and Southern regions of the Gulf States.  For example, North Texas observed its second wettest March on record while South Texas observed near normal precipitation.

So now we know how this past March compared to the long-term record, how different was it compared to March 2019?  The images below are pretty striking.  The first two show how much 2019 and 2020 deviated from what we would typically expect (based on averages from the 30 years between 1981-2010).  In 2019 there were not a lot of oranges or reds. Just a lot of blue compared to this year where many states were in their top 10th percentile! 

The last image shows the percent difference of 2019 to 2020.  While the percent difference was positive for most of the country, we really see big positive values in the Northern Plains. Some places in North and South Dakota saw a 60% or more increase in their average March temperature. That’s pretty striking. The Southern Plains have also seen an increase but mostly in the 10%-30% range. The bottom line here is that while Florida broke a record for their warmest March, the Northern and Central Plains observed a pretty drastic increase from 2019 to 2020.  This should translate into a much better calving and lambing season for producers in those areas.

Seasonal Drought Outlook Update for Apr-May-Jun 3.2M Beef Cows Could be in Drought by end of June

Seasonal Drought Outlook Update for Apr-May-Jun 3.2M Beef Cows Could be in Drought by end of June

The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook was released on March 19, 2020, and is valid from March 19 to June 30, 2020.  It is a subjective assessment of the U.S. Drought Monitor and the NOAA Three Month Outlooks.  The Outlook helps predict whether drought will emerge, stay the same or get better in the next three months.

The Seasonal Drought Outlook for the next three months shows a relatively large area along the West Coast and Southwest will be experiencing drought.  Florida has also popped as an area to watch after experiencing one of their warmest and driest March’s on record.

Daily Image: Seasonal Drought Outlook Update for Mar-Apr-May. 1.8M Beef Cows Could be in Drought by June

Daily Image: Seasonal Drought Outlook Update for Mar-Apr-May. 1.8M Beef Cows Could be in Drought by June

The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook was released on February 20, 2020, and is valid from February 20 to May 31, 2020.  It is a subjective assessment of the U.S. Drought Monitor and the NOAA Three Month Outlooks.  The Outlook helps predict whether drought will emerge, stay the same or get better in the next three months.

The Seasonal Drought Outlook for the next three months shows a relatively large area along the West Coast and Southwest will be experiencing drought.

Anyone can Look at Average Precipitation. Don’t Be Average! Check Out Livestock Wx’s Latest Product for Estimating Precipitation Frequency

Anyone can Look at Average Precipitation. Don’t Be Average! Check Out Livestock Wx’s Latest Product for Estimating Precipitation Frequency

Livestock Wx is proud to release a new product called the County Precipitation Tool.

The Tool gives livestock producers the ability to see how often precipitation has been below, average, or above average for any given county in the contiguous U.S. for a month or a range of months. In short, the tool allows a person the ability to see the odds of getting more or less precipitation than average for their county.  In most cases, average precipitation does not quite capture how an area experiences precipitation.

The reason for this is that unlike temperature, precipitation does not have a “bell curve” distribution where the average temperature reflects pretty well the most commonly occurring temperature for a season, month, or day.  For most days of the year precipitation is zero but if you were to average the amount of daily precipitation for say Fort Worth, TX, you would get an average daily precipitation of 0.1” (36.7” divided by 365 days).  Anyone from Fort Worth feel like a tenth of inch of precipitation per day is a fair representation of how you experience rainfall (or a Texan’s worst nightmare ice)?

We are used to thinking in averages but for precipitation it is probably more helpful to think about it in terms of frequency of the most commonly occurring amounts for a season, month, or whatever timeframe you might be interested in looking at.  That is what the Tool we are introducing today will allow you to do.  The tool uses data from NOAA going back to 1895. We have also created a guide on how to use the product, which can be downloaded below.

The Tool was developed by Dr. Becky Bolinger from Colorado State University and came out of a discussion with the East Co Group, who is a provider of the Pasture, Rangeland, and Forage Insurance.  Dr. Bolinger wrote an article on the topic in November of last year.  We will be reposting that article in the coming days for those that would like to see a slightly deeper dive on the topic.

Please take a test-drive of the Precipitation Tool and let us know if you have any questions or ways it could be improved.

County Precipitation Tool

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Water Year Update: Winners and Losers…So Far

Water Year Update: Winners and Losers…So Far

Here at Livestock Wx we thought it would be good to do a check-in on how the 2020 Water Year is looking so far and who the early winners and losers in terms of precipitation.  Please note, however, that just like not enough precipitation is problematic, too much of it can be just as bad if not worse.

So far, there are some clear “winners” so far and that includes most of the eastern half of the country while parts of Texas and the West could be considered in the “loser” or not enough moisture category.  Some places like the Pacific Northwest have had a very strong last couple of months so we expect parts of that area to come back somewhat.