Originally published February 5 2014
Western drought leads to smallest cattle herd in 61 years, organic food shortages
by Jonathan Benson, staff writer
(NaturalNews) It is shaping up to be an exceptionally tough year for agriculture in America, where persistent drought and erratic weather patterns across much of the nation have led to the smallest overall cattle herd in 61 years, according to the latest data, as well as widespread food shortages that have been particularly injurious within the organic sector.
A recent Washington Post (WP) report explains how the U.S. cattle herd, stricken by harsh cold and a lack of food due to drought, has shrunk to the smallest size since 1952. A downward trend that has been worsening every year for the past six years, the low herd numbers are also the compounded result of a record-breaking dry spell that struck the Midwest back in 2012.
"The U.S. cattle herd contracted for six straight years to the smallest since 1952," writes Elizabeth Campbell for WP. "A record drought in 2011 destroyed pastures in Texas, the top producing state, followed the next year by a surge in feed-grain prices during the worst Midwest dry spell since the 1930s."
Colder weather means cattle need more food to stay healthy Less water, of course, means fewer food crops. And fewer food crops means less available cattle feed, which is why many cattlemen have had to significantly trim down their herds these past few years. As we reported previously, the 2012 Midwest drought led to the vast majority of corn, soybean and hay crops not getting the water they needed to survive, which is still having an effect on the food supply.
"You sell your cattle because you can't afford to feed" them, stated Paul Looney, a Texas-based rancher who also serves as the first vice president for the state's Independent Cattlemen's Association, to WP. "We were hit across the board in Texas. Everyone had to reduce herd size, so that impacts the whole beef business, from the ranch to the plate."
The more recent cold spells have also had a damaging impact on the size of the U.S. cattle herd. As if the feed shortages were not already bad enough, the extreme cold that swept much of the nation recently has resulted in even higher demand for cattle feed. Colder temperatures, it turns out, mean that cattle require substantially more feed in order to stay healthy and alive.
"Cattle are requiring more feed in order to just maintain their body temperature, instead of putting that extra energy into gaining weight," stated Dean Wang, a rancher from Montana who has had to increase alfalfa hay rations during the cold spell. "This year, everyone started feeding a little earlier than what they would have liked, because of the heavy snow and the cold."
Higher demand, decreased supply lead to organic food shortages The organic food market for humans is also taking a hit during all of this, with shortages of cage-free, organic eggs, for instance, being reported all across the country. Everything from citrus fruit to canned tomato sauces is dwindling due to both increased demand and decreased supply, the latter of which is largely due to drought.
"[California] produces 99 percent of the artichokes grown in the U.S., 44 percent of asparagus, a fifth of cabbage, two-thirds of carrots, half of bell peppers, 89 percent of cauliflower, 94 percent of broccoli, and 95 percent of celery," reads an excerpt from an End of the American Dream post concerning the ongoing California drought, which is having a major impact on the national supply of fresh produce.
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