I have been following the serious drought affecting the ranchers in the Southern U.S. states and Texas in particular. Those folks have had a really tough time; I feel bad for them and at the same time I am so thankful that we have abundant grass for our animals.
A few weeks ago we were in south Texas, just outside San Antonio. It was hot and dry, dry, dry and what should be lush, green pastures are sparse, brown and desolate. Parts of Texas haven't received any rain since last fall, and forecasters predict the drought will last at least through November. The situation isn't much better in western Oklahoma, southern New Mexico and parts of southern Kansas.
The rancher we visited was trying to decide if he could afford to buy hay to feed his cattle or if he would sell them. What a tough choice! Officials say only a handful of Texas' 254 counties received enough rain to grow hay this year, so significantly less is available at the same time demand has skyrocketed because pastures are parched. That's why the average price of hay climbed to $170 per ton this summer from $112 per ton last July, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. But many ranchers are paying much more because the price doesn't include shipping costs. "Hay has gone up tremendously in price, and it's hard to get," said Jay O'Brien, who runs a ranch near Amarillo, Texas.
Farmers in Iowa and Wisconsin banded together last week to donate several truckloads of hay to ranchers in Texas and Oklahoma, but those donations are likely to offer only a temporary reprieve.
Nebraska hay farmer Cory Banzhaf said he's shipped about 80 percent of his crop — roughly 2,000 tons — south to Kansas and Oklahoma this year because of the drought.
Banzhaf said trucking the hay grown near Pleasanton, Neb., adds $50 to $70 to the cost of each ton, leaving ranchers with bills of between $225 and $270 a ton. Continuing to buy hay at those prices could be a recipe for bankruptcy, so ranchers have been selling off calves and cows of calf-bearing age even though they know it will be costly to rebuild their herds later.
Many ranchers also have lost access to water because ponds have dried up, adding to the need to reduce the size of herds or even sell all their cattle.
Many in the beef industry are predicting that the drought will drive retail beef prices higher as ranchers are forced to sell off a large part of their animals which will lead to shortages next year. Time will tell. In the meantime, pray for rain for our friends in the south - they sure could use it.