Drought Grips Areas of the United States

Drought and excessive heat could strain the nation's agricultural industry. From Florida to California farmers and ranchers have already felt the effects in decreased hay production and waning grazing pastures.

"A big concern right now is hay," said Sam Holland, DVM, South Dakota state veterinarian. With pastures starting to dry up, ranchers and farmers are already feeding hay to their livestock.

According a National Agricultural Statistic Service (NASS) report in mid-July, 60 percent of Mississippi’s pasture and hay land conditions were poor or very poor. The same conditions could be found in 83 percent of Alabama pastures, 63 percent in Texas, and 61 percent in Oklahoma.

“All the areas around the country that do a lot of winter grazing have been very dry," John Anderson, agriculture economist at Mississippi State University Extension service, told the Delta Farm Press (deltafarmpress.com). "It’s going to affect the demand side of the market if at least some of these areas don’t get significant rain in time to establish winter annual pastures.”

Some of the largest hay producing states, such as South Dakota (producing 7.5 million tons in 2005) and Nebraska (producing 6.9 million tons in 2005), are also the worst hit by the drought condition, according to the NASS.

Holland, said, "We had good rains early on, and now we're somewhat dry in the middle part of the state." Holland said the state's hay crop is being affected, and he expects there to be a low yield.

Since many farmers and ranchers have begun feeding hay early, they will be forced to pay higher prices for hay to be shipped in from other states when their supplies run low. Others might be forced to sell off part or all of their livestock, including horses.

Aside from a hay shortage, drought conditions can cause plants to accumulate certain nutrients in large concentrations that can be harmful to livestock. For more on drought effects see "Weather Extremes."

"Our drought in the center part of the state is comparable to the one we had in 1976, which was a disaster," Holland said. It might even be worse, with temperatures remaining the triple digits, and little rainfall in sight. Some auction houses have reported almost double the amount of cattle being sold this year compared to last.

"The only thing that is better this year is that the price of cattle is higher," Holland said. "So, when people go to sell off their cattle, at least they are getting something for them. But anytime you have to sell off your breeding stock, it can hurt you down the road."

About the Author

Chad Mendell

Chad Mendell is the former Managing Editor for TheHorse.com .

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