Beef bout — Cattle producers' challenges drive home industry's impact

5/27/2014

The latest misery for Kansas wheat farmers is all too well known, with much of the crop hammered by relentless drought, wind and other adverse conditions.

The latest misery for Kansas wheat farmers is all too well known, with much of the crop hammered by relentless drought, wind and other adverse conditions.

Wheat farmers in the Sunflower State aren't the only ones struggling, as folks in the cattle business here and beyond also continue to feel the pain of Mother Nature's wrath.

With years of drought hindering farmers' ability to produce hay or to provide forage and pasture for livestock, feedlots and meatpacking plants also have been feeling the heat.

Soaring grain prices driven by drought mean more expensive livestock feed — so costly that cattle numbers continue to drop as feedlots find it tougher to survive. It's been so challenging that feedlots in Kansas reportedly are tending to the fewest cattle since 1999.

The toll naturally stretches to meatpacking plants that employ big numbers, as well. In Dodge City, an undisclosed number of Cargill Beef plant workers recently were laid off.

Consider such negative fallout a huge economic concern in Kansas, a state ranked third nationally with 5.80 million cattle on ranches and in feedyards as of Jan. 1, 2014, according to the Kansas Livestock Association. In 2013 in Kansas, cattle generated $7.75 billion in cash receipts.

Even a sudden onslaught of rain won't cure the problem in short order, unfortunately, as it will take time to rebuild cattle herds.

But as tough as it may be, farmers and producers will continue to improvise, streamline their operations and do whatever else they can to ease the negative fallout.

Meanwhile, consumers also must deal with a setback in higher prices as the beef supply shrinks.

On the eve of the Memorial Day holiday weekend — the traditional start of the grilling season — the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a warning to consumers of higher beef prices to come.

Of course, here in southwest Kansas, we know firsthand how such an unfortunate situation can materialize.

While many consumers in the checkout lane may be annoyed by higher beef prices, we're left to take stock of the far-reaching impact on a cattle industry we depend on to help power our region and state.

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