Depending on the report or who you speak to, drought losses for agriculture vary widely. “No two groups do it the same. Some consider livestock part of ag, some don’t.” Regardless, losses, “are big and we haven’t seen the final numbers. We’re still seeing indemnity payments that are expected to top out at over $20 billion, according to the USDA’s Risk Management Agency.”

Corn, as of last September when the drought was peaking, had over 84 percent of the crop under drought. The same was true for soybeans. Livestock, which had been hammered in the Southern Plains in 2011, peaked at over 73 percent under drought.

The bigger issue now for livestock is forage. Much of the forage, “has been sent south to help (fellow ranchers) with feed issues. … So, forage has had to come in from the coasts, there were high fuel prices, and that led to a lot of culling of livestock herds.”

Further, range, forage and pastureland, “doesn’t just bounce back after a drought of this nature. Things are desiccated and so the feed won’t be there. … There are some real issues.”

The strain on water supplies was also quick to arrive. “It was quite interesting that in a one-year drought, we saw a rapid onset of water-related issues for supply. Some rural communities’ well-levels (dropped). There was a rapid drawdown, along with heat during the high-demand season really put a strain on our water resources.

“You might expect to see that in Year Two or Year Three of a drought. We were already seeing it by late summer or early fall (last year). And it’s still there going into 2013.”

As for breaking the drought, there has been some recent recovery. “We did see Isaac come ashore” to the benefit of the Mississippi Delta. It also helped Ohio and the eastern Corn Belt.

What does the future hold?

Unfortunately, computer models don’t shed cohesive light. “They’re really undecided on what we’ll see in the Pacific as far as El Niño or La Niña. … From March through May, they show a greater likelihood of above normal temperatures. Precipitation is a mixed bag — mostly dry in the West with a slight chance of greater-than-normal precipitation in the Great Lakes region.”

The bottom line, according to Svoboda: the country needs a wet spring. “We don’t have the buffer carryover coming into 2013 that we did in 2012.”


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