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One Nation Without Water

March 22, 2014
By: Wyatt Bechtel, Dairy Today google + 
drought cattle
The Ortiz Ranch in Texas shipped off nearly 40% of the commercial Beefmaster cowherd during the worst part of the drought. Now the ranch is trying to rebuild with home-raised heifers.   

Drought has had a widespread impact on all areas of the beef industry. To stay in business, water is the name of the game.

Water equals life. It’s a simple equation that all farmers and ranchers understand. Without the rain, farmers and ranchers would not be able to feed domestic consumers or the growing global population.

In the past few years, drought has touched all parts of the nation and has taken its toll on the U.S. beef industry by forcing producers to reduce cow numbers, cutting feedlot capacity and diluting the number of packing plants.

A weather outlook presented during the CattleFax annual outlook seminar at the Cattle Industry

Convention this past February painted a more promising picture for what is to come.

However, it was also a stark reminder of just how widespread the drought has been.

"El Niño is coming," says Art Douglas, a weather analyst for CattleFax. "I think this is a real positive thing that we’ve got going here."

Douglas says an El Niño weather pattern this summer will bring rain to the Midwest and much of the West, similar to 2010. He cautions that 2010 was the same year when drought developed in the Southeast, the first hint that La Niña was coming.

"By the time we got into 2011, drought was pretty prominent from New Mexico to Texas, all the way to the southeastern U.S. That was in direct response to the La Niña conditions and cold water conditions developing around the Equator," Douglas says.

"Of course, the worst year was 2012," he adds. "The Palmer Drought Severity Index was at a near-record high for a lot of the country in 2012."

The major drought was a result of both La Niña conditions and very cold water off the West Coast from the Gulf of Alaska all the way down to California.

In 2013, the outlook was better for the central U.S., but the drought has since moved westward into California and surrounding states.

"What it is really getting ready to do is repeat the cycle all over again and go back to 2009/10 with El Niño and improved moisture in the West. This cycle of drought developing in the Southeast in 2010, spreading into the Southern Plains in 2011, into the Midwest in 2012 and finally moving back to the West Coast is about to repeat itself," Douglas adds.

cattle feedlot

These Holstein steers at Pinal Feeding Company in Arizona came from a drought-stricken region of California. Because of the Brawley, Calif., packing plant closure, calves from California will have to be shipped farther east.

Cattlemen start to bounce back. The severe dry weather has led to liquidations on many cow-calf operations across the nation.

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FEATURED IN: Beef Today - Early Spring 2014
RELATED TOPICS: Beef, Livestock, Cattle, drought

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