Forage Conditions and Cattle Demand

Forage conditions are an important driver of calf prices this time of year. When forage is abundant, this can support prices as stocker operations want to fill their available pastures. In particular, winter grazing programs in the Southern Plains region (KS, OK, TX) of the U.S. are important because this region is where many of the calves we sell in the Southeast will end up for the winter. Good forage conditions in this region help demand for our calves. In light of this, the next few paragraphs are from Dr. Derrell Peel at Oklahoma State about the current forage conditions in Oklahoma. To summarize his comments, good forage conditions in a major winter grazing region are provided ample pasture space for the calves we sell. This is one piece in supporting demand (and prices) for these calves.

Beginning of excerpt from Dr. Peel:

Despite lagging wheat planting and slow wheat pasture development thus far, forage conditions in Oklahoma are generally very good.  In the last week of October, 83 percent of Oklahoma wheat acres were planted compared to a five-year average of 91 percent for this date. Wheat emergence was reported at 70 percent compared to 75 percent in the five-year average.  However, wheat condition was reported at 47 percent good to excellent and another 46 percent fair.  Seven percent of Oklahoma wheat was rated poor or very poor.  Though little wheat is currently being grazing, wheat pasture will likely develop fairly quickly from this point.

The end of October brings the final estimates of range and pasture conditions for the season.  Oklahoma pasture conditions were rated at 46 percent good to excellent, equal to one year ago, with 44 percent rated fair, up from 38 percent last year.  Only ten percent of pastures were rated poor or very poor compared to 16 percent one year ago at this time.  This year it’s quite common to see cows “belly-deep” in pasture at the end of the growing season.  Abundant standing forage in pastures may help producers reduce hay needs and moderate cow costs this winter.

Unusually favorable growing conditions in the late summer and fall period boosted forage quantities and maintained quality above average.  USDA-NASS increased Oklahoma hay production estimates in October significantly from the initial estimates in August. Other hay production was revised up by nearly 18 percent from the August estimates leading to a 2017other hay production estimate of 5.0 million tons, down less than one percent from the 2016 level.  Alfalfa hay production was increased by three percent over the August estimate to a 2017 total of 1.122 million tons, 40.6 percent higher than 2016.  Combined 2017 alfalfa and other hay production in Oklahoma is now projected to be up 4.9 percent from 2016 levels.  Combined with slightly higher May 1 hay stocks, total Oklahoma hay supplies for the 2017/2018 winter feeding season are up 4.6 percent compared to last winter.