Weather worries cattle ranchers at World Ag Expo

February 14, 2012 8:36:08 PM PST
Weather conditions in cattle country are what everyone was talking about Tuesday at the world's biggest agriculture show in the Central Valley. Farmers, growers and cattle ranchers from more than 100 countries are meeting in Tulare and everyone seems to be talking about higher prices.

World Ag Expo is an annual gathering where farmers, ranchers, dairymen and cattlemen learn how to improve yield and profits. But this year, California appears to be joining Texas in raising beef prices because of something they can't control -- drought.

It started in Texas in 2008 and was exacerbated last year by fires. And now California cattlemen are growing worried. Rainfall in the Central Valley is less than half of normal, and there's no grass for grazing.

"You start feeding hay; it just takes all the profit out of it, you're pretty much done," Tulare County cattleman Sam Travioli said.

Travioli is a third generation Tulare County cattleman. If rain doesn't come, the herds will have to leave California.

"They'll go to Colorado, Texas, wherever there's grass or a feed lot, and the cows, if it's really bad like we've done in the past, they'll go to permanent pasture in southern Oregon," Travioli said.

Some local cattlemen have been forced to reduce their herds, similar to what has happened in texas.

Norman Mullin is visiting World Ag Expo from Amarillo.

"It has caused a massive sell-off of stocker and mama cows because the forage production just went to nothing with the drought; there was nothing to sustain the grass," Mullin said.

The sell-off means less beef is reaching the market, and that's bad for consumers. Beef prices rose 10 percent last year and could rise another 10 percent this year.

The nation's cattle herd is currently the smallest since 1952 at 91 million head. Unlike crops, this represents a loss not covered by insurance.

"They just never had to liquidate, reduce the amount of herd, the herds, that they've had this past year," agricultural engineer Norman Mullin said.

And building up the country's beef stock won't happen quickly.

"The beef herd is slow to rebound because it takes quite a while; you've got a nine-month gestation period to birth one, so it's not anything that's going to turn around overnight," Tulare farmer and dairyman Mike Watte said.

Because of the slow comeback, some economists are projecting high beef prices will extend for two or three years.

There is a lot more going on here at the World Ag Expo. Wednesday, ABC7 will focus on new technology, including why it's good to pamper dairy cows.


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