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California’s Drought Hits Cattle Farmers Hard

California’s Drought Hits Cattle Farmers Hard

Residents of California are starting to get a little worried about where all their rain has been. The state is beginning to capture headlines around the world with news of a drought so serious that it may be the worst in 500 years, and that could have a huge effect on the state’s agriculture, communities and manufacturing. As more and more days have passed without rain, the state is dry as a tinderbox, and it could be in serious economic trouble, while people outside California may be missing out on popular exports like wine and Haas avocados.

One area where the drought is particularly acute is in cattle farming and ranching in general, where farmers count on winter rains to nourish lush pastures. California cows are typically turned out to graze so they can enjoy the outdoors, produce milk that meets organic standards, and eat a rich, varied diet. Furthermore, grazing from natural pasture is much more cost-effective, as it’s totally free.

Unfortunately, those spacious hills, which should be covered in fresh greenery, are dry as a bone across the state, and that means farmers are having to turn to hay and alternate fodder. That’s bad news for cows and farmers alike. Hay prices are going up, and there are some concerns that suppliers may start to run dry in a few months. This could force farmers into tough choices, including culling herds to get them down to manageable levels rather than watching their cattle starve for lack of healthy fodder.

It also poses a problem for organic certification. Farmers working to produce organic milk and products like cheese, butter and yogurt would prefer to keep their herds organic, but they may not have much of a choice. Marin County, known for its large organic herds, has already requested a USDA waiver to relax the pasturing requirements for organic certification so herds can stay certified, but still eat (normally, organic herds must graze on pasture for at least 120 days). Of course, if farmers are supplementing with hay, that needs to be organic too, and supplies of organic hay are thin on the ground, and getting thinner.

To compensate for the low available pasture, farmers are trucking in water (talk about watering the lawn…but in this case, it’s necessary) and scrambling to find hay sources. Ultimately, though, it may not be enough, which leaves them with the next obvious choice: reducing demand for hay by reducing the size of the herd. This could be devastating for farmers, who count on the diversity and size of their herds to produce high volumes of milk.

Meanwhile, prices for meat and milk alike will be going up in response to production pressures, which have to be passed on to consumers. Even with subsidies and other government assistance, it may not be possible to control pricing and keep it affordable for all Californians.

This issue raises some important questions about agriculture in California and whether the state should be so heavily invested in agriculture as we head towards a potentially drier future. It also challenges the consumption of animal products. While a decline in customer demand would hurt farmers, Californians wouldn’t be in this position in the first place if they’d cut down on their meat and dairy-eating ways: and I say this as a die-hard California cheese lover.

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Photo credit: Matt.

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113 comments

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2:28PM PDT on Mar 13, 2014

Well, what are your priorities America?? Having water to drink and LIVE, or having water to produce meat?? See where I´m going....

7:41PM PST on Feb 17, 2014

This whole report is written portraying the cattle ranchers as a premier victim. There are many areas and animals and humans in this mess, not just the greedy cattle ranchers. Most cattle ranchers already get so much government help in different ways that I don't worry too much about their bottom dollar. They don't worry about the public's bottom line. Portray the big picture when talking California drought. What about almond, peach, walnut, tomato -- all require water. Wildlife!

1:32PM PST on Feb 15, 2014

A draught has many effects that we have to learn to deal with. We have never been a conserving country. Now we are being forced to. Lesson learned? I doubt it.

6:51AM PST on Feb 13, 2014

My God - people feeling sorry for something that is entirely the fault of the human species. It's the poor animals I feel sorry for. They have done nothing wrong yet have to pay for our crap.

12:48PM PST on Feb 11, 2014

@ Ruby W.: You may have been tongue-in-cheek with your comment on 'getting the Jet Stream to go west instead of east, but 'those guys' can indeed alter the course of the jetstream, and I have no doubt they have.

Has anyone wondered if this drought could have been engineered?
Watch 'California Skywatch : The Chemtrail Cover-Up (HQ - FL) - YouTube + Rosalind Peterson'. And 'Geoengineering Whistleblower ~ Ex-Military ~ Kristen Meghan'.
Wake up to Stratospheric Geoengineering, and the HAARP project.
The US Military has said it will 'Own the Weather by 2020' as part of it's 'Full-Spectrum Dominance'.
And of course, 'Follow the Money'; who stands to gain by putting Organic Farming under stress? Monsanto. Who ordered the radiation monitors turned off when Fukushima radiation was on the way? Obama. Why? Good question; the truth about the Fukushima dangers would hit the Nuclear Power Industry; they would find it difficult to sell new reactors, and worse, I believe there are twenty-odd reactors of the Fukushima type in the US!
I'm a Brit, but if I was a Californian, I know who I would want for Governor, and it's not one of the major Parties. I won't mention her name, but she's Anti-War, Anti-GMO and Pro the People!
I hope you check the sites I referred to above; they are eye-opening.

9:22AM PST on Feb 11, 2014

Do you guys want us to send you Somerset? It is basically fully under water now, we could do without the water, you could do with it.
Fair exchange?
(or, if you guys can get the jet stream to go west instead o f east, our consistent rain will make it's way to you itself)

11:31PM PST on Feb 9, 2014

@ Carol P. quote: Ranchers should have known this was coming and diversified. It isn't as if we haven't known about climate change for long enough.

Carol much of the western grazing operations are in very rough, hardpan marginal land. It is impossible to till and grow grains or root vegetable crops. But they are resilient and will sell off surplus if there is no rain in sight. It is a hard life, In Alberta for example in the last decade they have dealt with drought and major flooding of cropland and pastures. One Bison operator moved his herd to Northern Manitoba to save it and not be forced to liquidate it at fire sale prices.when they were suffering drought.

Last summer it was probably early August before it stopped raining and we finally got some good heat days for gardening, so there was 1 - 6" squash when 2 years ago we had a heaping wheelbarrow full.

7:08PM PST on Feb 9, 2014

In times of drought like California, we need to stop watering golf courses and having car washes going on and some of our neighbors water their yards everyday whether it needs it or not, how wasteful some people are...

10:28PM PST on Feb 8, 2014

contd: We were thankful our bodies were being sustained We had no concept of luxury life There was No REFRIGERATION Electricity or PROPANE to cook FOOD or HEAT our homes with It was survival mode With large populated cities Many people have No choice of what their diet is comprised of Some are so rushed It's Fast Food 3 times a day Many have No concept or Care2 know what they R doing to their bodies They R trapped economically Working 2/3 jobs trying to survive to pay rent utilities automobile expenses etc.

Do you think the propane shortage is intentional? Some folk paying up to $6.00 per gallon The only heat source for their home We R manipulated by Market forces, GREED advertising peer pressure Inherited habits taught by parents etc. Lighten up Be more gracious in your approach You catch more bees with honey Sorry you cannot exploit bees Did you know honey has Medicinal uses? As per healing diabetic foot ulcers, but i guess amputations would make more sense! My choice is we can use bees Being thankful for all the crops and nut trees they pollinate And be grateful for the by-products of honey comb wax candles to light our homes with and natural sweetener that has tremendous shelf life

Hopefully California gets enough rainfall to sustain the almond trees so folk can have substitute milk for their granola cereal And hoping that the grasslands are well inundated to prevent wildfires and nourish the ruminants who prefer to eat fresh grasses

9:54PM PST on Feb 8, 2014

Mark Downer I hope your enjoying your herbicide sprayed gmo soybeans and the +++ estrogen they graciously impart Could it be Manganese Madness that has taken hold With your gracious attitude Do you come from a heritage line of vegans Your here because your ancestors survived by eating meat protein But maybe your 2nd. or 3rd. generation vega and are inheriting a toxic body burden of manganese Have you had blood work done too quantify that possibility?

Your anger and hatred could be Inherited genetics or family bias Culturally we are a very diversified people Not only with music tastes spiritual beliefs biased attitudes by affiliation acquired habits Diets by local topography terrain ocean lake river harvest of Seafood & Eat It Forest hunter gatherers Gardeners OR just lazy folk relying on the Safeway Clothing choices some spun wool or wove fabric some wore animal skins and leather footwear Some used imported slaves to harvest cotton to make fabric Leather Horse harness was used by our pioneering forefathers who traversed the Oregon Trail in the 1850's in covered wagons pulled by horses oxen donkeys etc. The bastards exploiting animals who carted or hauled their lifes belongings across the Prairies over the Rockies

When your living a Subsistence life like our grandparents were 100 years ago We were grateful for what was put before us 2 Eat We did Not Care2 get emotionally bound by the history of the animal who gave it's life that we may be physically sustained We wer

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