Farmers struggle with continued drought, hope for wet spring

KYLE, Texas (KXAN) — Years of drought have taken a toll on Central Texas farmers and ranchers.

Many ranchers have had to reduce the size of their herds. A small supply combined with a high demand has driven the price of cattle up.

“To this point, consumers prefer the product and have been very, very good to support the industry,” said Rick Machen, professor and extension specialist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. “But no doubt, higher beef prices is one of the impacts that the drought has had.”

Machen described the high price for cattle a blessing of sorts for the producers who had to reduce the size of their herd.

“When livestock producers cut their cattle, sheep or goat numbers, appreciatively that’s their revenue generating source,” said Machen. “It’s been tough on many of them. In addition to cutting the numbers, we still had to buy a lot of hay and supplemental feed. It’s been a tough time for producers, but they’re very resilient. They’ve been through drought before and they’ll survive this one as well.”

With a wetter fall, now the question is whether or not to rebuild in 2014.

“Many are in that quandary of, do I keep the heifer and rebuild my herd, or sell it and pay back some of that debt and get back on my feet financially,” said Machen. “Producers are still hesitant because we have very, very low rivers, streams, lakes. Many of our aquifers are really, really low. They’re a little bit hesitant to rebuild those numbers, but we’re optimistic that we’ll get the rain and maybe this is the year we’ll turn that inventory around.”

Jim Jansen has farmed in Kyle since the mid 1970s. He hasn’t had to reduce the size of his herd by much since 2011.

“We’ll keep the herd where they are,” Jansen said. “We’ll get rid of a few calves we normally would hold because cash prices are up so high.”

His drought plan includes holding on to some of last year’s corn crop in a new grain silo.

“The odds are one out of five years you’ll make good money,” he said. “Three out of five you’re going to break even, and one you’re going to lose.”

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