Arkansas was on the fringes of the 2011 drought that impacted much of Texas and Oklahoma. Cattle farmers culled a little deeper than normal, but most were able to retain the majority of their herds. However, this year things have not been kind to Arkansas cattle producers. The state started off on a dry note, early hay crops were cut in half the sky has been dry ever since.

My family has a cattle auction in Searcy, so we are on the front lines helping cattle farmers find marketing opportunities for their calf crops and cull cows. Back in May, my dad was on the Little Rock ABC news affiliate (KATV) detailing the rough start and need for producers to prepare for drier weather.

Now we’re almost to July and my inbox is filling up with news stories about the drought and how it is affecting Arkansas Agriculture.

The most recent drought monitor update shows conditions are worsening and long-term forecasts show no change in weather patterns, with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees over much of the state in the near forecast. Also in the region, portions of Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee, and Missouri are also affected by this strong drought. This doesn’t even begin to mention the inter-mountain west where fires are occurring. Pray for rain folks.

What weather affects cattle herd numbers, other food crops, and forage production now, trickles on down the supply chain.

My family’s auction involved in reporting drought conditions

The local CBS news affiliate (KTHV) came to my family’s cattle auction Tuesday to report on how the drought is affecting cattle herd sell-offs. Our region state doesn’t have large regional auction barns. The average summer sale is closer to 400-500 head each week for a barn. This week our barn had over 1,400 head. After talking with other barn owners, my dad said 3 other barns on Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday combined to market almost 6,000 head of cattle. The USDA does report sale numbers in Arkansas markets, but only represents a few select barns, many of them a small portion of the market.

During our auction on Tuesday, some kids lit a side shed on fire near our auction barn, shutting things down for an hour. The CBS news affiliate (KTHV) happened to be there and caught some of the action on camera. All of the cattle were moved safely away. The fire burned less than 5 acres but did move close to the next-door Wal-Mart distribution center. According to the local NBC affiliate (KARK), a 16-year old girl has been cited for the incident. Stupid kids. Don’t play with matches.

The local NBC news affiliate (KARK) also reported from Pope County, Arkansas (near Russellville) about the drought affecting cattle producers. Fort Smith, AR CBS news affiliate (KFSM) has also been reporting on the drought situation and following up as it intensifies. These areas bared the brunt of Arkansas heat and dry weather in 2011 and it appears to be the same case thus far in 2012.

Regional news reporting on drought effects on agriculture

Map of Arkansas highlighting White County

The Stuttgart Daily Leader reports that all of the state was impacted by severe drought (as of June 21) and every one needs to be cautious of burning, especially in wooded areas.

The Delta Farm Press reported on June 21 that ‘extreme’ drought is creeping closer and most of the state remains under burn bans.

Drover’s Cattle Network reported last week that over 56% of Arkansas pastures are in poor or very poor conditions. The hay situation remains critical with no real precipitation chances in forecasts.

Just this week, we’ve been discussing the prussic acid poisoning that killed some Texas cattle, and how farmers need to be aware of their forage management during drought conditions. This also applies to Arkansas forages. As Drovers Cattle Network reports, a number of situations can lead to toxicity in various forages.

Several Land Grant Universities provide information for cattle producers during times of drought. The Universities of Arkansas, Tennessee, and Oklahoma State have great publication banks to be used as resources.

We always have to be mindful of opportunities to share our story of agriculture and food production. When things do turn south, it’s important to give journalists an opportunity at reaching qualified information resources. I talked more about cultivating proactive relationships with media earlier on my blog.

How do you prepare for drought conditions in your area?

Once your area is experiencing drought, how do you manage it?

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