Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Drought Withers Smallest Hay Crop in Century

Whitney McFerron and Jeff Wilson

The smallest U.S. hay crop in more than a century is withering under a record Texas drought, boosting the cost of livestock feed for dairy farmers and beef producers from California to Maryland.
The price of alfalfa, the most common hay variety, surged 51 percent in the past year, reaching a record $186 a short ton in May, government data show. Hay and grass make up about half of what cattle eat over their lifetimes, so parched pastures are forcing ranchers to find alternative sources of feed, pushing some spot-market corn to the highest ever.
Farmers in Oklahoma and in Texas, the biggest producer of hay and cattle, may harvest only one crop from alfalfa and Bermuda grass this year, compared with three normally, said Larry Redmon, a state forage specialist at Texas A&M University. Cattle that usually graze on fields through September or October are instead being sold to feedlots, where they are confined in pens and eat mostly corn.
“We’re just running out of grass,” Bo Kizziar, the feedlot manager at Hansford County Feeders, said by telephone from Spearman, Texas. With pastures disappearing, Hansford is moving cattle into its 50,000-head feedlot three months earlier than normal, boosting costs . . . . . . . . . . . .

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