How Texas drought is contributing to low hay production for farmers, ranchers 🌾

Total cattle numbers are down due to a tight hay supply, raising prices at the grocery store

Texas drought contributing to low hay production (KSAT)

The first few months of 2024 have brought needed rainfall to parts of South Central Texas, but we still have a ways to go when it comes to alleviating the prolonged drought.

In fact, it’s been almost two and a half years since all of South Central Texas was last considered “drought-free.”

According to a recent report from Texas A&M AgriLife, hay production and supply remain tight due to the drought, especially for producers that have cattle to feed.

Given the fact that we have a lot of farmers and ranchers in the area, I talked to Dr. David Anderson, Professor and Extension Economist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, to gain further insight into how a lack of rainfall has contributed to a lower hay supply, and how it’s even affecting the prices we are seeing at the grocery store.

Supply and Demand: Hay vs. Cattle

As one would expect, a lack of rainfall typically translates to a lack of growing grass. When this happens, farmers and ranchers have to resort to buying hay to feed their cattle.

“We normally may feed hay over the winter anyway, but with the drought that we had last year, I think it was pretty common for the ranchers to be feeding hay as early as June,” said Anderson.

There lies another problem, though. When we’re in a drought, even the hay supply is low. Hay prices increase as a result, becoming very expensive for ranchers to buy.

To keep costs down, cattle producers will often cull their herds to decrease the total amount of mouths to feed, but that typically means that the price of the cattle that they do have goes up, too. This supply and demand concept ultimately contributes to higher prices at the grocery store, which is what many of us have been experiencing firsthand.

To put numbers to it, the USDA released a cattle inventory report at the end of January stating that there were 4.1 million beef cows in Texas. This is lower than the previous year, showing that herd numbers are down, in part due to the drought.

Have Recent Rains Helped At All?

Year after year of prolonged drought can have a snowball effect on hay, taking it even longer to improve and recover.

“For grasses, pastures, and hay, it takes time for those grasses to recover. So when we have a drought, particularly an extended drought, it may take a couple of years for pastures and rangelands to fully recover,” said Anderson.

From a comparison standpoint, 2023 saw 8 more inches of rain than 2022 (which was our second-driest year on record in San Antonio!). As a result, hay production was slightly better last year, which helped the hay supply ahead of this winter to some degree.

However, numbers still weren’t as good as the 10-year average. “So if you look back over time, our production really is lagging behind and I think that’s related to this multi-year drought that we have going on,” said Anderson.

While it’s evident that we could still use more rain, Anderson said that recent rains have helped improve the soil moisture.

When spring hits, higher soil moisture can provide a good foundation for summer grasses to grow.

Recent rains have also helped fill up ranchers’ ponds and tanks, which helps out their livestock and area wildlife.

Here’s hoping we see more rainfall in the months ahead and continue to chip away at the drought! Rest assured, you can count on Your Weather Authority for updates as we approach the spring season.

About the Author

Meteorologist Mia Montgomery joined the KSAT Weather Authority Team in September 2022. As a Floresville native, Mia grew up in the San Antonio area and always knew that she wanted to return home. She previously worked as a meteorologist at KBTX in Bryan-College Station and is a fourth-generation Aggie.

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