USDA-NASS (National Agricultural Statistics Service) initiated their weekly U.S. pasture and range conditions ratings (first release was Monday May 8th). NASS reported that as of early May range and pasture conditions were similar to a year ago. The ratings come from NASS county Extension staff of Land Grant Universities and other industry-based crop observers. The ratings are in 5 qualitative categories; excellent, good, fair, poor and very poor.

Nationally, only 9% of the pastures were rated poor or very poor at the start of this May versus 10% a year ago. Sixty-three percent of range and pastures were in the good to excellent condition, up from 58% a year ago. Compared to the prior 5-year average (2011-2015), U.S. early season conditions are much improved.

The end of the drought in California in recent months had the expected effect on range and pasture conditions in that state as only 5% of the pastures are rated poor or very poor, currently, compared to 15% a year ago. California pastures rated excellent picked up the difference with a jump from 30% to 40%. The improvement in California reduced Western region range and pastures rated poor or very poor by 5% from a year ago. Range and pasture conditions across the Western region have improved dramatically when compared to the early parts of this decade, when extreme dryness was felt from the Pacific to the eastern slope of the Rockies.

Pasture conditions in the Southeastern and Midwest states currently are similar to a year ago. Drought conditions plagued the Southeastern region in the late summer and early fall of last year. Current conditions in the Southeastern region are close to what they were last spring but slightly below 2015 and prior years. Midwestern pasture and range conditions are very favorable, like a year ago, rivaling the best conditions since ratings have been maintained by the LMIC back to 1995.

The Great Plains region (Kansas and Colorado north to North Dakota and Montana) has the greatest concentration of beef cows and pasture conditions this spring are about the same as a year ago. Sixty-three percent of the pasture and range is rated good or excellent in this region compared to 61% a year ago. Currently, pastures rated poor or very poor account for 8% of the total, the same as a year ago. Two years ago, in early May, only 40% of the pastures in this region were rated good or excellent.