Economic Tidbits

The Drought Lingers

The lingering drought in Nebraska is still very much affecting agricultural producers. The latest drought monitor map produced by the UNL Drought Mitigation Center shows 99 percent of the state is under some form of drought. Even more concerning, 60 percent of the state is under a severe, extreme, or exceptional form of drought. While conditions have improved since the start of the year, they are worse now when compared to last year at this time when 45 percent of the state was categorized as in a severe drought or worse. 

Figures 3 and 4 show weekly subsoil “very short” and “short” moisture ratings year-to-date compared to 2012 and 2010-2022 weekly averages. Ratings are shown beginning with week 13 through week 43, roughly April through October. Very short subsoil moisture ratings averaged between 5-15 percent over these months with the latter half of the growing season typically drier than the first half. The extraordinary drought in 2012 stands out with very short ratings reaching 80 percent in late September, well above average. Unfortunately, this year’s subsoil moisture ratings are running worse compared to the 13-year averages and 2012. As of May 30, 31 percent of subsoil rated very short of moisture, an improvement relative to a few weeks ago, but still poor when compared to the 13-year average rating of 7 percent and the 2012 rating of 12 percent. Prior to this year, very short conditions exceeded 20 percent in 5 years (2012, 2013, 2017, 2020, and 2022). And 2012, 2013, and 2022 were the only years when very short conditions exceeded 35 percent at any time during the growing season. Now 2023 can be added to the list.

FIGURE 3. PERCENT OF SUBSOIL RATED “VERY SHORT” OF MOISTURE

Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service

As of May 30, 44 percent of Nebraska subsoil was rated short of moisture, five percentage points higher than the 2012 rating for the same week. The 2010-2022 average for the week between is 18 percent. Presumably, the recent rise in the percentage rated short relates the decline in subsoil moisture rated very short, meaning the increase in the short rating could be viewed as a positive. Nevertheless, the percentage of subsoil rated short of moisture for this particular week of the year is the highest recorded since 2010.

Drought has numerous effects on production agriculture. Crop producers can suffer reduced yields and increased costs. Livestock producers can see pasture and hay crops wither and pay higher prices for feed. The rapid deterioration of conditions last year and in 2012 over the latter half of the growing season make the droughts in those years stand out. Thus far this year, conditions have improved in central and western Nebraska but worsened in the east and Southeast. Hopefully, the rain will be aplenty over the rest of the growing season and this year will not be a repeat of 2012 and 2022. 

FIGURE 4. PERCENT OF SUBSOIL IN NEBRASKA RATED “SHORT” OF MOISTURE

Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service

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