West Arkansas cattle operations — from Texarkana to Fayetteville — have received rain and pastures are “in pretty good shape,” says Tom Troxel, Arkansas Extension beef cattle specialist.

In the east half of the state, however, some areas are in a moderate drought. There’s a severe drought in extreme southeast Arkansas — 3 inches below normal rainfall.

“Prior to the Easter freeze, the state had experienced warm nights and good growing conditions. The warm-season grasses had taken advantage of that.”

In many places, those grasses were ankle, or boot-top, high and were a week to 10 days from being harvested. But the freeze knocked the early growth back.

“The warm-season grass had to begin all over. Cattlemen lost the two weeks they were ahead of schedule. That didn’t bring them back to par, though. Now, the situation has flipped — warm-season grass is two to three weeks behind schedule.”

Troxel says the first cutting’s yield was normal. However, the three-week late start could impact the second and third cuttings in the summer.

“In areas of the state — especially from Little Rock to the east — rains have been so hit-and-miss that some producers are in doubt about a second hay cutting. In the western half of the state, though, hay production might be above normal.”

In 2005 and 2006, the drought was so severe there was no hay to be found in the state. In fact, in 2005, hay was shipped in from Missouri and Kansas. In 2006, the drought was so widespread in the central United States that Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska didn’t have excess hay either.

This year, Troxel says, “we’ll see hay for sale in the state. I know people to the east of Arkansas — parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee — are in severe drought and will be wanting whatever extra we might have for sale.”

Besides rain, another problem for cattlemen is something row-crop farmers are certainly familiar with: the “tremendous” cost of fertilizer and fuel to get grass harvested and stored.

“These facts will certainly increase the price of beef production. Even with the higher fertilizer price, many producers have put it out. What’s the option? To get the grass growth, fertilizer must be used.”

The high price of corn is also increasing costs at feed yards.

“Since prices rose, it costs $80 to $120 more to feed a cow at the feed yard. That obviously adds stress to any profitability.

“Depending on the feeding program for cow/calf producers, we don’t feed corn to a lot of calves. But corn is a very good energy source for cows in the winter. That’s where this corn price will impact Arkansas cattlemen the most.”

Whether or not that scenario plays out largely depends on the 2007 corn crop. “If yields are bumper on the tremendous acreage increase, it should soften the price of corn a little. But if a corn region — say the central part of Illinois, for example — is hit with a drought and yields are cut, it’ll impact the price of corn and cause more problems for the cattle industry.”

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com