Photo Credits: Jerod Foster | The Texas Tribune
In a new American Farm Bureau Federation survey, three-quarters of US farmers said that the worsening drought has unequivocally damaged their crops, leading to a massive loss in their harvest and income.
According to the farmers surveyed by the bureau, this year’s drought is more intense than last year. Nearly 37% of the farmers said they are now killing the crops that the heat has damaged since they will no longer reach maturity. Compared to last year’s data, the number of farmers doing this activity jumped by 24%.
The heat in July was recorded to be the third hottest period in the history of the US. It has also broken records in every state, ranking top 10 in all the Western states excluding Montana, reported the National Centers for Environmental Information. Meanwhile, the US Department of Agriculture reported that during the first week of August, “rapidly intensifying drought gripped the central and southern Plains and mid-South, depleting topsoil moisture and significantly stressing rangeland, pastures, and various summer crops.”
In the report by the AFBF, 60% of the West, South, and Central Plains are currently seeing severe droughts this year and may even intensify if the current trend persists.
“The effects of this drought will be felt for years to come, not just by farmers and ranchers but also by consumers. Many farmers have had to make the devastating decision to sell off livestock they have spent years raising or destroy orchard trees that have grown for decades,” said the president of AFBF, Zippy Duvall.
The survey conducted by the bureau included 15 states from June 8 to July 20, covering the drought-affected areas of Texas to North Dakota to California. These areas produce almost half of the US agricultural production.
Half of the Californian farmers said that they removed several trees and an ample variant of other crops because of the drought. This decision will ultimately impact the region’s production, causing supply shortages and revenue reduction. California is a state that largely contributes to the supply of fruits and nut tree crops to the US market.
Thirty-three percent of all farmers surveyed in the US are also doing the same; this number has almost doubled compared to last year.
Water problem for the farmers
As the drought continued, water reserves became nil in several areas. As a result, many Texan farmers had no choice but to sell their cattle herds earlier. According to the farmers, the conditions forced them to do it because they could no longer efficiently raise their herds due to low water supply and lessened grass numbers, which have mostly dried up due to the heat.
“We haven’t had this kind of movement of cows to market in a decade, since 2011, which was our last really big drought,” David Anderson, an Agricultural Economics professor at Texas A&M, told reporters.
Other states also reported the same, with Lone Star state recording the largest herd size decline by 50%. New Mexico followed it at 43%, and Oregon at 41%. Local authorities restrictions on water use have also worsened the conditions, with 57% reporting it as the main problem, up by 7% from last year.
The AFBF said that Lake Mead and Lake Powell used to supply water to over 5.5 million acres of land to states in the West. However, with a 30% decline in the lakes’ water levels, farmers have had a hard time finding other water sources.
What consumers have to expect
With this, consumers have to expect higher prices of goods in the coming months.
“For cattle and beef, once the market processes the excess animals sent to slaughter and has a smaller breeding herd to operate off of- [price increases] could be six months to well over a year. For specialty crops it could be immediate upon harvest,” said an economist at the AFBF.
“[This] will likely result in American consumers paying more for these goods and either partially relying on foreign supplies or shrinking the diversity of items they buy at the store.”