February 6, 2014

Arizona drought forcing ranchers to sell cattle

Clay Parsons with Marana Stockyards says, "We can't feed our cattle year round hay. It's too expensive. We have to sell the cows."

by John Patrick

TUCSON - Ongoing drought conditions are forcing cattle ranchers to sell off part of their herds early.

Nearly one million head of cattle in Arizona makes for big business, especially in Pinal County, one of the top counties in the U.S. when it comes to cattle sales.

A normal cattle auction in February at the Marana Stockyards sells off around 500 head of cattle, but due to drought conditions they've seen nearly double that number.

Ruben Rivera, a cattle rancher from Globe, Arizona, was one of the many in town Thursday to unload cattle to be auctioned off. He says the lack of water on his land is making it hard to keep his herd healthy.

"I think it's going to become a problem not only for us but for everyone up there. Everyone is running dry right now," explains Rivera.

As drought conditions drag on the natural pasture that cattlemen depend on is unavailable forcing them to supplement with expensive feed. Clay Parsons with Marana Stockyards says this is one of the main reasons he has seen an increase in numbers at his auctions.

Parsons says, "We can't feed our cattle year round hay. It's too expensive and too cost prohibitive. We have to sell the cows."

According to Parsons, Central Arizona ranchers are selling off about 20% of their herds, but if it doesn't rain soon they will be forced to sell even more.

"We're preparing to have to sell off within the next 60 days. So right now we're looking at a 60 day window. Normally it rains at the golf tournament and the rodeo so we're praying for that," says Parsons.

The nation's cattle population is at a 61 year low so the billion dollar industry is preparing for the long haul when it comes to the drought.

"The drought in Arizona is not only drastic for us now but the future. When you sell of your cow herd you can't just rebuild it in one year," explains Parsons.

It can take years for the animals to breed and grow so in the meantime rancher's trim costs and hope conditions improve.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture the price of choice-graded beef has hit an all-time high but Parsons says if the drought persists the market price of beef may rise another 20%.