Ranchers on both sides of the 49th parallel are telling similar stories. In 2011 Fred Verch of Eganville, Ontario, spent $4,000 on hay because his fields were lush. He told CBC he has already had to spend $80,000 this year. His fields are so dry he knows there will be no second cut.
On the south side of the border, Kansas rancher Ken Grecian told the Associated Press a similar story. By the third week of July he had sold off 40 of his 300 cow-calf pairs and expects to sell more, though he knows rebuilding his herd will take years.
Grasslands are burning. Livestock are suffering from the heat. Feed prices are rising. Auction prices are dropping. The forecast is for dry, hot weather right through the growing season. Ranchers watching their fields burn know they will have no feed come winter.
Drought By the Numbers
In two Care2 posts in July, bloggers quantified the issues facing the livestock industry. Jeff Fecke detailed the extent of the drought in the U.S.:
The United States is in its worst drought since 1956, according to a report by the National Climatic Data Center. A full third of the country was suffering from severe to extreme short-term drought, up from 23 percent in May. Overall, 56 percent of the country is in drought conditions, including much of the Plains and Midwest.
Kristina Chew tallied the impact of a reduced corn crop on the price of eggs, dairy and meat:
The price of a bushel a corn is now $8, up 50 percent from where it was last year, as 88 percent of the corn crop has been affected by the drought. Poultry prices are expected to rise immediately (3.5 to 4.5 percent by later this year) due to the rising price of corn feed. Egg prices are also expected to rise (as much as 4 percent) and those for milk, pork and beef to follow next year. Dairy products are to increase 3.5 to 4.5 percent, pork 2.5 to 3.5 percent and beef, 4 to 5 percent.
Next: Government Responses Only Stopgap
On August 13th Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plan to assist farmers, ranchers, small businesses and communities by buying $170 million of pork, lamb, chicken and catfish. The meat will be used in federal food nutrition programs and food banks.
Although much of Canada has avoided the worst of the drought, farmers in Ontario and Quebec are appealing to the federal government to offer assistance with feed costs. Ontario Minister of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs, Ted McMeekin has asked Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to assist livestock producers through the AgriRecovery framework.
Any temporary relief can only be a stopgap measure, as long-range forecasts predict drought conditions will become increasingly common and severe. While responding to immediate needs in the livestock industry, governments need to work with that sector to address environmental impacts issues that will only increase if global demand for meat continues to rise.
Food security involves all parts of the food system, from seed to plate. Placing this year’s drought in the context of a warming planet raises significant, long-range questions. One of them is whether or not humans should be eating meat at all. That is a large and contentious issue. Two Care2 posts published in 2010 still do a good job of exploring the associated aspects of the question:
- There’s No Reason to Eat Animals (On the One Hand)
- Animals Are Essential to Sustainable Food (On the Other Hand)
Related Care2 Stories
Photo credits: Thinkstock