US drought cripples hay feed industry

Monday, August 20, 2012
By Paul Martin
Mon Aug 20, 2012

Widespread drought has scorched much of the pastureland and hay fields needed to sustain cattle herds in the U.S., forcing many ranchers to find feed alternatives or sell their animals early into what has become a soft beef market.

The shortage has led to higher hay prices, with some farmers saying they have to pay two to three times last year’s rates.

While crop insurance is curbing losses for the big corn, soybean and wheat growers during this year’s severe drought, cattle and dairy farmers still have to pay high prices for feed, including hay.

Despite farmers setting aside more land to grow hay this year, they are still producing a lot less because of the drought, according to a recent Department of Agriculture estimate.

Pasture grass and hay are what most cattle are fed for the roughly two years they live before being slaughtered, but the drought is threatening to starve the animals.

Many hay growers won’t be able to recoup their losses because they typically forego insurance policies, which provide less coverage than those for other crops, said Beth Nelson, president of the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance.

The drought has forced ranchers across the country to sell their cattle early, and many are taking their animals to feedlots prematurely and getting much less money than they normally would for their animals. WSJ

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