A convergence of weather and market conditions have put a number of Texas beef producers in a tough spot, facing rising supplemental feed prices and lower sale prices at local auctions, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.
Dr. Jason Banta, AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist, Overton, said extended winter weather led to less carryover of hay supplies compared to last year. Cool spring temperatures slowed summer grass emergence before drought conditions set in. Lower temperatures also reduced typical hay harvests by half in many production areas, including East Texas.
Second hay cuttings have been below-normal in quantity and quality due to drought as well, he said. Drought conditions are also affecting hay availability in other nearby states, including Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas, as herd sizes continue to expand.
“That means hay supplies will be tight,” he said.
Dr. David Anderson, AgriLife Extension economist, College Station, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports hay stocks each year on Dec. 1 because it is a relatively good starting point for supplies of hay for winter feeding. Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas hay stocks were down 27, 16, 21, and 8 percent, respectively on Dec. 1.
After a winter of feeding, May 1 hay stocks were down 63 percent in Texas and Louisiana, 52 percent in Oklahoma, and down 40 percent in Arkansas compared to the year before, according to the USDA.
Normally, nationwide, this is the time of year that hay prices tend to decline as production picks up around the country and before hay purchases get started in order to stock up for winter, Anderson said.
Prices for large round bales in North, Central and East Texas have risen amid low supplies and high demand, Anderson said. Round bales that sold for $50-$65 in early July last year are now selling for $70-$90.
“While we have had some rains around the state over the last couple of weeks, a large area of the state has been and remains in some measure of drought condition,” Anderson said. “Continued drought and dry conditions could leave us in a bind for hay supplies heading into the fall.”
Rising hay prices and lower cattle price trends should be a concern for producers, he said.
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“You’ve got to think carefully about how much you want to spend on feed when cattle prices are in decline,” he said.
Despite the rise in hay prices, feed costs are down dramatically over the last several weeks, Anderson said.
In the case of corn and soybeans, the U.S. crop is off to a great start, and early indications are for some record corn yields in parts of the corn belt, Anderson said. Southern Plains corn prices dropped to about $3.50 per bushel last week, down from over $4 per bushel about six weeks ago. Central Illinois soybean prices fell from about $10 per bushel to about $8 per bushel over the same time period.
While the soybean crop appears to be a big one also, the prospect of tariffs hitting exports have contributed to lower prices, Anderson said.
Falling feed prices have provided a little boost to calf and feeder prices at local auctions, he said. Rain can also boost calf prices as well.
“A little rain usually leads to a little rise in calf prices,” Anderson said. “Producers who received rain won’t sell and can afford to bid more for a calf when they have forage potential and feed costs less.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
CENTRAL: Irrigated cotton acres progressed well, but dryland fields were very poor. Second cuttings of hay did not come this year, and ranchers started feeding hay and supplements already. Livestock were in good condition. Crops were being harvested, but production was low. Grain sorghum harvest was almost complete with decent yields of 2,500-4,000 pounds per acre. Corn harvest started and yields were decent in the early stages. Counties reported fair soil moisture. Overall crop, rangeland and pasture conditions were fair in most counties.
ROLLING PLAINS: Hot and dry conditions were the norm. Some spotty storms popped up throughout the reporting period and provided very quick, heavy rainfall but only in a few locations. Lightning strikes during the storms caused multiple fires. Pasture conditions were very poor in some areas, and supplemental hay was being fed.
However, in other areas, livestock were in good condition with little to no supplemental feeding taking place. Most forage sorghum that was planted was either baled or grazed. Cotton conditions vary from poor to good, depending on planting date and ground moisture during planting. Irrigated cotton looked good. Fields were prepared for wheat planting. Grasshoppers continued to be a problem.
COASTAL BEND: Recent rains improved overall conditions for many growers. Some areas suffered drought conditions followed by excessive rain that negatively impacted the harvest of corn and grain. Grain moisture was higher than desired, and lodging continued to be a problem. Both sorghum and corn were harvested where dry enough to get into fields.
Cotton defoliation began and several fields were ready to be harvested. Cotton growers continued to monitor bollworms and were working hard to keep their damage to a minimum as populations increased. Rice was nearly all headed out.
Mosquitoes continued to be a problem in most areas affected by recent rains. Pastures and hay fields responded well to increased soil moisture. Hay harvest was in full swing, and most pastures were in good to excellent condition. Livestock were doing well.
EAST: Several days of scattered thunderstorms and light rain improved prospects of a decent hay crop and improved grazing conditions in many parts of the district. Harrison, Houston and Smith counties all received beneficial rains in areas, while other parts of the counties were still in dire need of moisture. All counties continued to report serious deficits of rainfall, which caused great concern among producers and homeowners.
Many of Harrison County producers started putting out hay while some Houston County producers still had not cut hay. Smith County producers were calling for hay purchase information. Pasture and rangeland conditions in Angelina and Harrison counties were poor, while Rusk and Sabine reported good conditions, and Shelby, Smith and Wood counties reported fair conditions.
Subsoil conditions were very short in Shelby County and short in Angelina, Harrison, Houston and Smith counties. Sabine and Wood counties reported adequate subsoil conditions. Topsoil conditions in Angelina, Houston, Rusk, Shelby and Smith counties were short. Adequate topsoil conditions were reported by Harrison, Sabine and Wood counties. Shelby County reported calf prices were down per hundredweight.
Livestock were in fair to good body condition. Grasshopper and feral hog control was underway in Wood County, and Shelby County reported armyworms.
SOUTH PLAINS: Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels improved with recent rain, however, due to low moisture levels, soil moisture continued to be low. Acres of irrigated corn and cotton planted early and that received rain looked good. Corn was progressing and cotton setting bolls. Dryland cotton that emerged, and even some irrigated fields, still needed a lot of help from rain. Producers were going to have to manage uneven stands.
Pest issues in cotton and corn remained light. The sugarcane aphid arrived on sorghum fields but in isolated colonies and low numbers. Growth stages in grain sorghum were all over the board. Many acres were just planted. Peanuts continued to do well. Pasture, rangeland and winter wheat continued to need rain. Cattle were in good condition.
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PANHANDLE: Hot and windy conditions were reported. Temperatures were normal. Soil moisture was short and irrigation was very active. Some moisture was received. Amounts were scattered and ranged from a trace to 1.5 inches in some areas. More moisture was needed throughout the district. Quite a bit of corn was silking or will be soon.
Hot dry winds caused some corn to stress. Dry conditions were affecting all crops, especially dryland fields. Sunflower planting finished. Rangeland was very dry. Cattle were in good condition. Some cow-calf herds grazed Conservation Reserve Program grasses as the USDA authorized emergency grazing due to drought. Warm temperatures and moisture helped crops.
Cotton was coming along well with the heat units, and some cotton had open blooms. Corn was coming along with many fields starting to tassel, and later-planted silage fields were at about 24 inches. Wheat harvest was over with some dryland fields doing surprisingly well considering the conditions.
NORTH: Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels ranged from mostly adequate to short across the counties, with some reporting very short. Most counties received 0.2 to 2 inches of much-needed rain. Daytime temperatures were in the mid-90s, with heat indexes above 100. The wheat harvest was complete, and yields were average this year. Corn was starting to mature, and soybeans and cotton looked good, but more rain was needed.
Ponds were shrinking, and some producers were feeding supplemental feed. Hay producers reported the first cut of hay was much lighter than last year, and rain was needed if the second cuttings were to be better. Hay was hard to find in Cass County. There were reports of grasshoppers.
FAR WEST: Temperature highs were in the upper 90s with lows in the high 60s. Scattered showers brought 0.39 to 2 inches in areas that received rain. Pastures were still very poor and most cotton never emerged due to lack of moisture. Irrigated cotton was starting to improve due to scattered showers. A lot of fertilizer was being applied. A few hot spots of spider mites and stink bugs were reported.
First picking of watermelons was winding down. Corn was drying down, and sorghum made good progress. Fruit on trees were maturing. Pecan trees needed supplemental watering. Trees showed average nut sets on certain varieties. Insect control was necessary in livestock handling facilities and on livestock because of moisture. Winkler and Regan counties were experiencing above average greenness in rangeland and pastures. Shipping of lambs and kids was complete.
WEST CENTRAL: Most of the district received some rainfall with amounts ranging from 1.3-2 inches. However, some areas did not receive any moisture. Temperatures were forecast into the 100s, so the moisture was not expected to last long. Round bales were being moved to livestock. Prices on stocker steers and heifers were steady.
Feeder steers were $3 higher than last reporting period. Feeder heifers were $1 to $2 higher. Packer bulls were steady and packer cows were $2 to $3 lower. Pairs and bred cows were steady with limited sales. Pecan producers with irrigation were watering. Harvest of winter wheat was complete, and some producers planted hay grazer for summer grazing and hay production.
SOUTHEAST: Recent rains provided the necessary moisture needed for good grass growth. Scattered showers brought rain, but some areas received more than others. Sorghum harvest was underway with growers hoping to dodge rain showers to cut dry grain. Cotton was filling bolls.
Hay harvest was ongoing. Ranchers intend to harvest additional hay beyond what is typically stored to provide additional security. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied from excellent to very poor with good ratings being most common. Soil moisture levels ranged from adequate to short with adequate being most common.
SOUTHWEST: All but one county reported much-needed rain. Recent rains greened grasses up, but no lasting impact was anticipated. Only significant rains will help drought-stricken pastures and rangelands. Creeks, rivers and tanks were drying up.
SOUTH: Northern parts of the district reported continued hot weather conditions with short to adequate moisture levels. Western areas reported hot but wet conditions with very short to adequate moisture levels. Eastern parts of the district reported rain and short to adequate soil moisture. Conditions in areas receiving rain had improved.
Corn harvest continued, and peanut crop was in the pegging stage while cotton was setting bolls. Pasture and rangeland conditions improved due to recent rainfall. However, a large area of the district remained dry with no improvement in rangeland and pasture conditions. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued. Beef cattle herds remained in fair condition with supplemental feeding occurring in dry areas.
Pecan growers were active applying water to orchards. No insect pressures were reported. Green grass started growing in areas with rain, while some producers in drier parts continued to cull herds and haul water. Reports of failed corn, grain and cotton fields were noted. The live-cattle market was doing well with spike in prices.