Food prices could rise as livestock farms suffer in drought

ARGOS, Ind. – It’s not just crops that are being hurt by the ongoing drought, some local farmers say the effect the dry weather is having on livestock is creating problems that should concern everyone.

Hal Sullivan owns a herd of about 1,200 cattle he raises on his properties outside of Argos.  In his 57 years of farming and ranching he said he’d be hard pressed to think of a drought as bad as the current one.

"83 and 88 was bad, but it wasn't, I don't think, this bad, we did get a few little showers,” Sullivan described.  “Right in here, where we live, we have not received hardly two or three-tenths (of an inch) is basically the biggest rain we've received."

Because of a shortage of feed and skyrocketing prices Sullivan has been forced to start feeding his cattle the hay he usually sets aside to make it through the winter.

“Normally we start feeding hay in November until April, we feed for six-months,” Sullivan explained.  “With the drought we’ve had to start feeding in June, by November that’s going to be six-months.”

With the drought also affecting corn crops, Sullivan isn’t anticipating a lot of feed from corn and any that is to be found will be expensive.

“If we don’t get any of that, we don’t know what we’re going to do,” he described.  “Everybody’s in the same boat.”

Sullivan explained that beef prices will shoot up as well, but he isn’t expecting to be making a profit.  In fact, Sullivan said he didn’t think it possible for him to break even this year.

The impacts will be long term, Sullivan explained, because the result of the drought’s affect on livestock will be a reduction in next year’s herds.

"We sell down here at the local Rochester Sale Barn and normally 200 to 240 head is what they usually sell a week down there,” he described.  “They've been running like 350 head a week down there, really that's not good."

The dry weather, Sullivan said, also discourages cows from breeding.  That, combined with the current selloffs, will create lower populations which will have a lasting effect on market prices.

“Nobody really knows what the future is,” Sullivan said.  “Nobody's really been in these conditions we're in right here."

The government is stepping in to assist some livestock farms; the USDA has estimated that 81-percent of Indiana’s pastures are in poor or very poor condition for grazing.  With proper approval, the USDA is allowing emergency grazing on conservation land in 22 counties including Fulton, Kosciusko, LaGrange and Noble.  Another 17 counties have applied for emergency grazing.

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