New Mexico cattle ranchers suffer losses from drought in the west

State Senator Pat Woods has seen a lot of it over the past year – cows taken from a herd and sent to slaughter because their owners could no longer afford to feed them.

“It was terribly dry,” said the longtime breeder and Republican lawmaker from Broadview, a herding community in the eastern plains of New Mexico. “They predicted that it would never rain again and that it would be such a difficult year that a lot of ranchers didn’t want to put their money in the cow.”

Drought is hitting again – and its effects are having a significant impact on the state’s cattle industry, according to a new report from the Department of Animal and Range Sciences at New State University – Mexico.

The report, which was presented to Woods and other members of the legislative group, put it bluntly on how drought conditions were hurting pastoralists.

Some climatologists have called the drought enveloping the southwest of the country one of the worst in centuries. About two-thirds of the state have experienced moderate to extreme drought conditions in recent weeks. And that was after a healthy monsoon season in many areas.

Among other results, drought conditions decrease animal growth, decrease forage opportunities for livestock, increase the cost of production and decrease calf prices, the report says.

This in turn results in additional costs when it comes to restocking flocks that have been thinned.

Calling the situation “the perfect drought and pandemic storm,” Loren Patterson, president-elect of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, said the industry is reeling from “all of the above” highlighted in the study.

“It has a pretty big impact on us economically,” he said by phone after the report was presented. “This increases our production costs. Not only do we need to reduce the number of cows, but we need to provide more supplements for the cows we are raising. “

From an economic standpoint, the beef industry is a meaty, if not a powerful force. A 2019 report, from the environmental publication Sustainability, said its role in the state’s economy is “substantial.” Using data from 2012, he said about 44 percent of the state’s agricultural industry income comes from livestock.

Patterson said that while those who work in agriculture are used to dealing with the problems caused by drought in the long term, “it’s always a little more difficult than you prepare for.”

Ultimately, consumers will bear the brunt of the impacts in meat markets, grocery stores and restaurants, Patterson said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index reports that the price of beef and veal increased 6.5% between July 2020 and July 2021 – although it does not provide an explanation for this increase.

And there might be less beef for everyone. Patterson said the ranchers who thinned the herds are now trying to replenish them by keeping female cows to give birth to calves. These cows will not be entering the food supply chain anytime soon. This can affect the beef supply for up to three years, he said.

Replenishment is expensive, according to the report.

Representative Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, who is a breeder and interim committee member, said she experienced this cost firsthand, noting in an interview that she had to sell over 100 of her herd to the end of 2019. due to the effects of the drought on its operation.

Now, trying to restock, she finds cows worth $ 700 at almost twice the price as demand exceeds supply.

“This is a rarity of a product that we need as breeders,” Ezzell said.

Carla Gomez, a small-scale cattle rancher from Mora County, said the drought had a “devastating” impact on other pastoralists in her area, despite a season of very good rains.

“Here in Mora, a lot of people who had livestock in the past no longer do because of this cycle of continuing drought,” she said. “People are selling their cattle. some people rebuild the herd and some don’t.

The report offers a number of recommendations to mitigate the effects of drought, such as weaning and early sale of offspring to reduce grazing costs; provision of supplements to replace milk and grass for food; eliminate both old and young “low productivity” animals from herds; keep animals in a pen to give them stored food.

Some of these options are expensive, the report notes.

While Patterson said these options would be “absolutely” useful, selling cattle or sending them to slaughter is “economically devastating” for ranchers.

And, he said, it will cost the state and local counties in tax revenue because cattle ranchers “pay taxes on every head of cattle, so obviously counties and state will realize less. taxes “.

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