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Northwest Iowa Dairy Outlooks

A local discussion of current science and issues concerning dairying in northwest iowa

This week’s Crop Progress Report from USDA indicates that winter wheat planting is progressing at a very normal pace. That is good news for the beef industry which sorely needs to see the wheat crop progress normally in order to provide pasture for calves and, as was the case last year, a good number of cows given the poor pasture conditions in much of the country. As of September 30, 40% of the nations winter wheat acres had been planted. That compares to 36% last year and an average of 43% over the past 5 years. Emergence stood at 12%, the same as last year and 4% slower than the 5-year average of 16%.

Dr. Derrell Peel of Oklahoma State detailed some important developments for wheat pastures in his OSU Cow-Calf Corner article last week. He points out that significant rainfall in much of Oklahoma last week (see the top map from NOAA) helped winter wheat conditions but that the northern tier of counties remains very dry. In addition, Dr. Peel quite correctly points out that the rainfall has not solved all  the longterm drought conditions  and that additional moisture will be needed soon.

Typical wheat grazing programs begin in November or early December. Calves or yearlings can be grazed on wheat pasture full time and removed in late February or early March if the producer wants to harvest a wheat crop or in May (ie. the wheat is “grazed out”) if the value of extra cattle pounds exceeds the potential value of a wheat crop. A limited grazing system involving one day on wheat and 2-3 days on dry grass or hay is best for dry cows.

Dr. Peel reports that the economics of wheat grazing programs appear good at present. March and May feeder cattle futures are currently sufficient to lock in values of gain that range from $110/cwt to $135/cwt. Those values will cover a grazing cost of about $150 to $170 as well as other typical costs and still return $70 to $90/head.

Light-weight (400 to 500 lbs) steers on a graze-out program have the potential to return $70-$100/head after covering a wheat grazing cost of $258-$310 per head.

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