Ag Weather Forum

Western Drought Chokes Hay Supply

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , Ag Meteorologist Emeritus
Connect with Bryce:
Summertime offers mostly below normal precipitation for the interior U.S. with no improvement in pasture and hay conditions. (DTN graphic)

Drought continues to tighten its grip on the western half of the United States. Water is in such short supply that Las Vegas has put a ban on all grass lawns and is forcing their removal -- yes, Vegas not only has the Strip, but it's also stripping the turf. In the Central Valley of California, a zero-water allocation for irrigation districts that supply many farmers was announced back in March. Such a cutoff of water implies less production from one of the prime growing areas for fruits, vegetables and nuts in the U.S.

Another effect of the western U.S. drought -- now in its third consecutive year -- is a notable shortage of hay supplies along with poor pasture conditions for the beef cow herds of the American West. Oklahoma State University extension livestock economist Derrell Peel noted some damaging numbers in the May 16, 2022, Oklahoma State Cow-Calf Corner Newsletter.

"The May USDA Crop Production report included hay stocks for the beginning of the hay crop year, May 1. Total U.S. hay stocks were down 6.9% year over year and are 15.1% below the 2012-2021 average. This follows a nearly 12% decline in May 1 stocks last year and a Dec. 1 stock level that was down 6% year over year," Peel wrote.

But the situation gets even worse when looked at over a two-year period. "After two years of drought in some areas, hay stocks in the West are down 36.6% from 2020 levels and are down 27.1% from the 2012-2021 average," Peel noted. "The hardest-hit region is the Northern Plains and Rocky Mountain states with Montana down 53.6% year over year, and down 55.4% from the 10-year average for the state. Also sharply lower were North Dakota, down 45.3%, South Dakota, down 50.5%, and Wyoming, down 38.5% from 2021 levels. In total, this four-state region (Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota) had May 1 hay stocks down 49.2% year over year. This level is down 48.1% from the 10-year average level for the four-state total. These four states had 15.1% of beef cows on Jan. 1."

Conditions are only slightly less stressful in the Southern Plains (Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas). "(The Region) had May 1 hay stocks down 12.0% year over year and down 25.3% from the 2012-2021 average. Oklahoma hay stocks on May 1 were down 47.8% year over year and are 43.5% below the 10-year average for the state. Kansas hay stocks were down 26.4% from last year and 32.5% below the 2012-2021 average. May 1 hay stocks in Texas were up 33.3% year over year but remain 10.6 below the 10-year average for the state. The three states accounted for 26.6% of beef cows in the country on Jan. 1, 2022," said Peel.

Peel also cited the Four Corners region (Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah) with total hay stocks 19.4% above a year ago but 32.5% below the 2012-21 average. These states had 4% of the U.S. beef cow herd on Jan. 1, 2022. And California through the Pacific Northwest states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho had May 1 hay stocks up 6% from last year, but 15% below the 10-year average.

Washington and Oregon hay stocks are 18.2% and 24.1% respectively below a year ago, and both states are more than 25% below the 10-year average for each state. This region accounts for 6.3% of the total beef cow herd. Peel also noted that Colorado and Nebraska have sharply higher hay stocks compared with 2021, but that "drought conditions persist and pasture and range conditions are diminished in 2022."

Summing up these various subregions and conditions, Peel concluded: "More than 50% of the U.S. beef cow herd is directly threatened by drought. Across the country more than 50% of pastures and range are in poor to very poor condition. The majority of this pasture and range is in these western states. The bleak prospects for pasture and hay production, combined with continued diminishment of hay stocks, suggests that significant and severe impacts on cattle herds are ahead as summer approaches."

Summer precipitation forecasts do not offer any relief from this extended drought. June-July-August precipitation totals indicate mainly below normal amounts, along with above-normal temperatures for the western U.S.


More on the Las Vegas grass removal ban is here:…

Further details on the California Central Valley irrigation allocation are available here:…

The Oklahoma State Cow-Calf Corner Newsletter is available here:…

See a DTN story on how drought is affecting the Texas Panhandle, see….

Bryce Anderson can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter @BAndersonDTN


To comment, please Log In or Join our Community .