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Drought conditions are in decline but continue to impact the U.S. and ag producers

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln helps individuals and organizations build drought resilience through intensive monitoring and planning.  

NDMC partners with the U.S. Drought Monitor to partake in climatology work with individual ranches, state and Tribal governments and numerous counties across the U.S.

On Jan. 9, NDMC released its December 2023 Drought Climate and Impact Summary, which indicated drought in the U.S. has declined overall, but conditions vary widely across the country, impacting harvests and contributing to wildfires.

Western climate summary

According to NDMC, “Nationwide, exceptional drought coverage dropped from 1.78 to 1.02 percent, while most of the contiguous U.S. saw warmer-than-normal temperatures during December, with a few exceptions in southern parts of the Southeast region.”

These trends were evident across the Western and High Plains states, where parts of South Dakota and most of North Dakota saw temperatures of nine to 12 degrees above normal, and the rest of the High Plains saw temperatures three to nine degrees warmer than usual. 

While above-normal precipitation fell across Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and the eastern Dakotas, precipitation in Wyoming was below normal. 

“Primarily, drought improvements occurred in eastern Colorado, parts of Kansas, eastern Nebraska and southeast North Dakota. Degradations were common in north-central Colorado, the Black Hills, central and northern Wyoming and eastern South Dakota,” reads the report. 

“Exceptional drought coverage dipped slightly from 0.56 to 0.03 percent. Extreme or worse drought coverage declined a bit, going from 3.31 to 1.97 percent. Severe or worse drought coverage decreased from 12.62 to 8.8 percent. Moderate or worse drought coverage dropped from 24.38 to 22 percent,” it continues.  

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center reports the January drought outlook signals drought improvement for parts of the Pacific Northwest, from the Four Corners area to the U.S.-Mexico border and from eastern Texas northeastward through the southeastern part of the Appalachian Mountains.

Producers impacted

Although drought conditions have seen a trending decline, parts of the U.S. endured lingering drought into the winter after suffering from dry conditions earlier in the year.

NDMC notes, “There were 133 drought impacts across the U.S. in December. Texas had 21 impacts outlining agricultural damage and water restrictions, while Virginia had 20 impacts depicting water restrictions and fire activity. California and Louisiana both had 17 impacts.”

Christmas tree farms across the U.S. reported seedling damage from drought this year, especially in Iowa, Indiana, Missouri and Nebraska, which reported seeding damage.

“Drought conditions killed most of the seedling plants in 2023 and growers planned to plant more in the spring of 2024 or bring in pre-cut trees to bolster tree supplies,” NDMC reports.

The summary notes for two straight years of drought, Texas peanut growers had another difficult season in 2023.

Despite drought conditions, the Texas peanut production forecast was 656 million pounds, an increase of 100 percent over last year, according to the November USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service report.

Although 205,000 acres of peanuts were expected to be harvested in 2023, nearly 14,000 peanut acres in Texas were lost to dry and hot conditions.

Drought also impacted Texas’ cotton crop in 2023, as the growing season started slow and the state was very dry in March. Dryland acres were therefore not harvestable, and irrigated cotton yield was half of normal, according to the U.S. Farm Report, per the NDMC summary.

The Virginia Department of Forestry reports Virginia suffered 156 wildfires which burned nearly 25,000 acres statewide between Oct. 15 and Nov. 30, and the area’s average rainfall was below long-term normal values.

But, grapes in Virginia were the best in years due to the dry weather, and local winemakers expect 2023 vintage to be phenomenal.

Drought conditions continue to impact the U.S.

According to Louisiana State University (LSU), drought and intense summer heat cost Louisiana’s crawfish industry nearly $140 million, and in parts of southern Louisiana, thousands of acres of crawfish ponds continued to be dry due to high salinity levels in surface water.

The LSU AgCenter estimates drought affected about 45,000 acres of crawfish ponds, and farmers will be prevented from fishing another 43,000 acres because of saltwater intrusion or lack of water.

“Drought damaged and killed a portion of Louisiana’s sugarcane crop,” LSU AgCenter confirms. “This season’s yield may be 25 to 30 percent less than normal, and a sugarcane grower in Lafayette Parish estimated losses of 35 to 40 percent.”

NDMC confirms cattle producers in Missouri worry about moisture as the state continues to be affected by drought and producers need improvement in grass conditions before herd expansion can occur.

“Missouri has been on a nearly two-year liquidation cycle with cattle herds,” notes the Missouri Department of Agriculture. “Reports indicate producers are having to feed hay early due to drought and hay production was down 40 percent for producers, so some are exiting the cattle business.”

Cattle producers across Mississippi have been harshly affected by drought as well, says Mike Brown, Mississippi state climatologist.

Some producers in southern Mississippi increased pasture water troughs when ponds dried up over the summer and bought extra hay because grass was not growing.

Cattle in some parts of the state have been fed hay since the start of October, earlier than normal, and as hay supplies grew scarce, producers planted ryegrass to supplement and sold calves earlier to preserve pasture grass.

Melissa Anderson is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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