Based on the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor data, the impact of drought continues to be a theme into the new year even as rains bring relief to beef cattle producers in parts of the West. However, pasture and forage availability in the central and southern Plains likely remain tight as drought continues there. The impact can be seen in the hay stocks estimate released in the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) report. Hay stocks on Dec. 1, 2022, were 72 million tons, 9% below a year ago and the lowest for this period since 1954. This likely supports higher-than-expected cow slaughter in December, suggesting producers are still hampered by limited forage and higher associated costs. For the week ending Jan. 10, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported that over 69% of the U.S. is experiencing some level of drought, about 4% less than a year ago. According to the USDA World Agricultural Outlook Board, approximately 58% of the U.S. cattle herd is located in drought-stricken areas. This is an increase of 8 percentage points from a year ago.