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Oklahoma cattle ranchers see improving conditions, but drought's effects linger

Geronimo Giqueaux

Recent rainfall across Oklahoma has chipped away at drought-stricken areas, bringing some relief to cattle ranchers.

But full recovery is still a ways away, said Derrell Peel, an extension livestock marketing specialist for Oklahoma State University.

With dried-up ponds and little to no forage, the drought has forced some ranchers to sell their livestock early for the past two years. Last year had the most beef cows slaughtered since recordkeeping began in 1986, according to a USDA livestock report.

Rebuilding cattle herds will be a slow process, Peel said.

“I think at this point, it's highly unlikely that we could actually turn this thing around and stop the liquidation completely,” Peel said on SUNUP. “Now, we don't expect a lot of liquidation, but it does depend on what happens to the drought as we go forward.”

The USDA crop progress report shows pasture conditions are improving with recent rains. The latest report shows pasture and range conditions were rated at 80% fair to good, while the first report in May was rated 45% fair to good.

Peel explained there will be a slowdown in beef production this year as cattle ranchers try to maintain their smaller cattle herds and rebuild their herd size, which could lead to higher prices for shoppers at the grocery store.

“There is this unknown from the consumer standpoint of just how much higher can they go before we really start to see consumer reaction in terms of shifting away from beef to other meats,” he said. “We don't necessarily see that happening too much yet, but at some point, it will happen as consumers try to minimize the impact of higher prices on their personal budgets.”

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Xcaret Nuñez covered agriculture and rural communities for KOSU as a corps member with Report for America from June 2022 to September 2023.
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