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Gauging Drought’s End

According to Travis Miller, Texas AgriLife Extension Service statewide agronomist, there are four generally acknowledged types of drought: meteorological

Aside from fears of jinxing a return to non-drought conditions, figuring out whether you’ve emerged from one is tough, in part because of the various definitions.

According to Travis Miller, Texas AgriLife Extension Service statewide agronomist, there are four generally acknowledged types of drought: meteorological, hydrological, socioeconomic and agricultural.

Miller explains meteorological drought refers to a deficit in precipitation in a given region over a specific period of time when compared to that same time interval over a historical average for that period. Hydrological drought refers to the effect of reduced precipitation on surface and subsurface water supplies. Socioeconomic drought occurs when reduced precipitation causes an adverse affect on a region’s economy.

"And agricultural drought, currently widespread through Central and South Texas, is evidenced by dry stock ponds, bare fields and little or no green-up in pastures which should normally be lush this time of year,” Miller says.

“The agricultural economy in drought-stricken areas of the state is impacted because it’s either too dry to plant crops or the crops are withering, and ranchers are feeding livestock hay or other supplementation when they would normally have green grass and full water tanks,” he says.

By each of those measures, welcome recent rains are softening the drought in some part of Texas and the nation, while others continue to wither.

“I think most experts would concur that a drought is over when rainfall is close to the long-term average, ground moisture is adequate for normal dryland crop growth and to provide sufficient livestock forage, and lakes, reservoirs, ponds and stock tanks are full or nearly full,” Miller says. “However, while a drought may be over, the impact of drought to local economies and to ag production can be longer lasting.”

In a news release from Texas AgriLife Extension last week, John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas' state climatologist, explained the forecast from his office indicates La Nina will weaken significantly in May and June, while El Nino will take over the Pacific Ocean in the fall. That would mean some parts of the nation, dry for too long, should turn cooler and wetter.

For the week ending April 26, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service:

Corn – 22% is planted, 13% ahead of last year, but 6% behind the five-year average. In Iowa, the largest corn-producing state, planting progress was aided by favorable conditions, allowing producers to plant 41% of their crop during the week. A large increase was also reported in Minnesota where producers planted 40% of their crop.

Soybeans – 3% is planted, which is 1% ahead of last year but 2% behind normal. Producers in all states remained behind last year’s pace, except those in Louisiana and Michigan.

Winter wheat – 21% advanced to the heading stage, 7% ahead of the same time last year, but 2% behind average. Development over the past week was evident in North Carolina, Oklahoma and Arkansas where 41%, 28%, and 27% of the crop matured during the week, respectively. 45% is rated Good or Excellent, compared to 46% at the same time last year.

Spring wheat – Nationally, spring wheat seeding was more than a week behind last year’s pace. 15% of the crop is in the ground, which is 17% behind last year and 21% behind the five-year average. 2% has emerged, which is 2% behind last year and 7% in back of average. With a week of dry weather and warmer than normal temperatures, noteworthy progress was made in South Dakota and Washington with producers seeding 24% and 20% of their acreage during the past week, respectively.

Barley – 17% of seeding is complete; 15% behind last year and 17% behind average. Planting began in North Dakota, the largest barley-producing state, but progress was more than a week behind last year’s and the normal pace. Washington producers took advantage of drying fields and planted 19% of their crop during the week.

Sorghum – 28% of the intended acreage is sown, 2% behind last year, but on par with the normal pace. Kansas producers had yet to begin planting, while 61% percent of the acreage in Texas was in the ground, 4% behind the pace in 2008, but three points ahead of normal.

Oats – 61% of planting is complete, which is 9% ahead of last year, but 4% behind the five-year average. Above-normal temperatures coupled with below-normal precipitation allowed producers in North Dakota to begin seeding this year’s oat crop, although planting remained over two weeks behind the normal pace. 37% has emerged, five points ahead of last year, but three points behind the five-year average. Iowa’s crop showed the most development, progressing 26% during the week.