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Livestock Producers Say Goodbye to Green Pastures

March 21, 2013
By: Tyne Morgan, Ag Day TV National Reporter
turkey barn
While poultry producers were less likely to be in drought-stricken areas, those who were had to fight to keep their birds cool in the extreme heat.  

The 2012 drought proved too much for countless acres of row crops to handle last year. As farmers were forced to watch their dying crops starve from no moisture, livestock producers saw the writing on the wall. And early last fall, Kansas’ Brookover Feed Yards Manager Brian Brice knew it was just a matter of time before feedyards would be in the red.

"The margins right now are negative," Brice told AgDay in September. "They’ve been negative all summer with losses up to $200 to $300 a head."

2012, combined with the drought in 2011 that gripped much of the Plains, created losses so steep. Iowa State University Livestock Specialist Shane Ellis says liquidation became some producers’ only option.

"As pastures become in worse condition, forage becomes a little tighter and producers are basically forced into the decision of culling heavier than they normally would," Ellis says.

According to USDA’s January Cattle Inventory Report, the nation’s calf crop has now dwindled to the smallest since 1949.

"The cow/calf operation is the engine behind the beef industry," Ellis says. "And if you’re not producing the calves, you’re not going to have the engine of your industry revved up and going."

The situation proved too much for even meat processors to handle. Cargill announced in January it would have to temporarily close its Plainview, Texas, plant until ranchers are able to rebuild their herds.

The pasture wasn’t any greener for hog producers last summer and fall. Iowa hog producer Todd Wiley had crunched the numbers in October to prepare for the tough road ahead.

"When I take all the numbers and put them together, we’re losing right at $57 per pig, today," Wiley told AgDay.

Just like the cattle industry, pork producers were forced to make a difficult decision.

"For many operations, they’re pulling back into survival mode and cutting back on sow numbers and holding things back as much as they can, because they know for every hog they are producing, they’re going to be losing a tremendous amount of money," Ellis told us last fall.

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