DROUGHT DRIVES ALABAMA CATTLE TO MARKET
MONTGOMERY Drought is driving a record number of cattle to market in many areas of Alabama, and with state cattle numbers already at their lowest point in half a century, Alabama's beef herd could reach an all-time low, according to Raleigh Wilkerson, director of the Alabama Farmers Federation's Beef Division.
As dry conditions linger, more farmers are being forced to feed hay normally reserved for winter, and many producers have been forced to sell young, lightweight calves because they're running out of feed and water, Wilkerson said. Other producers have been forced to sell brood cows because no forage is available, and the cost of feeding hay year-round is expensive, he added.
"Stockyards across the state are seeing about two or three times the number of cattle being sold now compared to this time last year," Wilkerson said. "Usually, calves are sold in September, October or November. They're being sold now because the market is good and forage is short, but they're at a lighter weight, reducing producer income as much as $100 per head."
According to the Alabama Agricultural Statistics Service, the state's cattle inventory was about 1.46 million head in January, down from 1.6 million head in 1990. That makes this year's total herd the smallest since 1951, when Alabama's cattle inventory was 1.37 million head.
Even with the high sales at Alabama auctions, prices remain good in most areas, Wilkerson said. With grain prices down and the Midwest receiving more rain, calves are being shipped to feed lots or pasture there. But if the drought continues, more Alabama cattlemen will be forced to liquidate their herds, he said.
"We may see a lot of older cattle producers liquidate their herds and not get back into the business," Wilkerson said. "That's really sad, because prices are good right now and should be for the next three or four years. It's a bad time to have to sell out."
Producers may find some relief, thanks to U.S. Sen Jeff Sessions who had $5 million allocated for emergency feed and hay for Alabama farms included in the Senate Ag Appropriations Bill. Federation leaders are working to have the spending measure included in the final budget.
A hay lift, organized by the state Department of Agriculture, and the Alfa Farmers HayLink also have helped get hay to the farmers who need it. As of July 28, more than 12,900 rolls of hay had been delivered to farmers through the hay lift. And more than 114 listings with hay for sale had been posted on Alfa's HayLink site on the Internet at: www.alfafarmers.org.