How are ranchers and farmers faring through this terrible drought? Will we quit farming and ranching voluntarily? Not on your life.
unfortunately, it will be their last year. Reading the
advertisements for livestock auctions tells the story: "Selling due
to the drought." Ranchers almost never sell herds of mother cows,
just a few here and there when some cows become less productive.
Other ranchers are spending the money and buying
enough hay to keep going through this fall and winter. What's
available in our area of South Dakota is good quality alfalfa
raised on farms with continuing irrigation water, though it sports
a premium price to go with the quality.
are the farmers who irrigate farms and also ranch; for they can
usually feed their cows.
For ranchers who have
spent several years building herd numbers, and more importantly,
herd genetics, selling out is heartbreaking. Sale barns are having
more dispersions each week as the drought progresses. When a
drought as severe and geographically far reaching as this one
occurs, hitting Wyoming, Nebraska, North and South Dakota and
Montana, good cattle that might have otherwise been purchased by
another rancher are instead turned into hamburger. It is the future
generations of calves that will be missed and mourned. Once the
mammas are gone, there will be no more babies, and no more income.
Calling it quits on the land has a devastating
trickle-down effect. As summer ended, it seems a lot of farm and
ranch kids got their back-to-school clothes at second-hand stores.
The agricultural community is living the adage, "make do, or do
Crops are bad so it won't matter that
the combine needs repairs; it won't get used anyway. A decision not
to harvest, however, affects the implement dealer, the fuel
supplier and on down the line in rural areas.
What really hurts is the scandal around ConAgra
shipping tainted beef. There were long delays in notifying the
public, and by the time the recall expanded in July to include
nearly 19 million pounds of beef, E.coli in the meat had made at
least 47 people sick in 23 states.
and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have taken most of the heat,
ranchers fear they have also been tainted.
course it didn't help when a Colorado prison fed some of the
spoiled meat to inmates after apparently misplacing the message
warning prison officials of the contamination. The damning
publicity continued when ConAgra announced at least 68,000 pounds
of the tainted beef would likely be put into ready-to-eat beef
meals such as canned chili and meat spaghetti sauce.
Because of the high temperatures in cooking and
canning the products, any e-coli residue would be killed. Farmers
and ranchers know that, but the people who shop in supermarkets
On the other hand, the
government has helped out by allowing Conservation Reserve Program
acres to be harvested or grazed. The program pays farmers not to
plant farm crops, so fields get planted to a permanent grass,
usually a mixture of alfalfa and grass seed.
the tradition of the West, ranchers and farmers have been eager to
share their bounties. Retired farmer Jerry Pietron of Larimore,
N.D.,donated his 2,000 uncut acres to other farmers in both South
and North Dakota. Those farmers in turn, harvested the grass and
took the feed home for their starving cattle.
Matt Janowiak from Colorado and his brother,
Stan, a Wisconsin farmer, created the Wisconsin-Colorado Haylift
after Stan mentioned that he and his neighbors had more clover and
alfalfa hay than they could possibly use. Farmers in Klamath Basin,
Oregon have also not forgotten how it feels to be without water;
they've lined up hay to send to Trinidad, Colo.
Ranchers and farmers like to tell themselves
that they are a tough lot who do their best work when left to their
own resources. We help our own because it's the way we were raised.
But as the year 2002 winds down, we are all having to be tougher
than anyone thought possible for a long, long