Livestock farmers face ‘a bit of a perfect storm’
Editor’s note: This column has been edited to reflect local conditions.
Since the devastating 2012 drought, many Missouri farmers have spent the past five seasons rebuilding their herds and getting back to a sustainable level. Many have just started to feel like their feet are back under them. But with the dry months of summer now setting in, many Missouri cattle farmers are struggling to find hay and feed for their animals.The current drought has decreased forage growth by about half, according to many farmers. To make up for this loss, farmers would typically feed baled hay to supplement pasture grazing. However, several factors have converged to reduce the availability of extra hay.
In the drought-affected areas, last fall was abnormally dry across much of the state, leading to less hay production in the first place. After making it through winter with low hay stocks, farmers were looking forward to warmer weather and turning cattle out to graze once pastures began to grow.
In most years, many Missouri farmers might feed hay to their cattle until the end of March or first of April. But with this April being historically cold – with many areas even seeing snowstorms through the third week of the month – some farmers had to extend their feeding three or four weeks longer than planned.
With all of these factors at play at the same time, Missouri farmers are experiencing a bit of a perfect storm that has left many with only a few options. If farmers can find any hay available to buy, they could do so, but it would likely be at a very high cost due to the low supply and high demand. They could buy feed for their cattle, also at abnormally high cost to the farmer. Some may choose to rent ground in a wetter part of the state or even out of state, which would require expensive transportation costs on top of the cost of rent. The last obvious option is to prematurely sell animals into an unfavorable market already overrun with supply from other farmers making the same decision. None of these options is good, and the only thing that can really bring better choices is a sustained period of rain. Unfortunately, we are yet to reach the typically driest months of the year. Farmers will continue to do the best they can with what they have, weigh their options ... and pray for rain.