The intensifying drought across the West is forcing many farmers and ranchers to make tough choices — selling livestock and destroying crops, a new survey has found.
The American Farm Bureau Federation surveyed its state and county leaders and members in 11 western states and the Dakotas to gauge how they’re managing.
The survey ended June 25 and received nearly 700 responses. States were given the options of filling out the survey on behalf of their members at the county, district or state level.
On average, selling portions of the herd or flock, increases in local feed costs and traveling long distances to acquire feed and forage were scored as prevalent or higher.
More than 85% rated selling off portions of their herd as prevalent or higher, and 87% of respondents said there’s an increase in feed costs associated with drought in their area.
In addition, 77% of respondents said they reduced their acreage and see that as prevalent in their region.
Many respondents spoke of weaning animals earlier, reducing grazing time on rangeland, hauling water through mountain terrain and relocating herds across state lines, Farm Bureau reported.
One California rancher said he had to reduce his herd by 66% to deal with lack of feed and the huge transportation costs of hauling feed from out of state.
The Arizona Farm Bureau reported that all the ranchers it surveyed had either begun to liquidate or are planning to liquidate significant portions of their herds.
On the crop side, reduction of planted acreage and switching planned planted crops because of drought scored as moderately prevalent or higher.
Tilling under crops was the least prevalent issue, although results varied by state. Nevada reported tilling under as very prevalent, and New Mexico scored it as near zero.
Several respondents reported current and expected yields were down by more than 75% of normal, with examples of drilled forage grass failing to germinate, alfalfa ceasing growth after 4 inches and plants being completely dried out from low humidity.
Many producers of orchard trees have experienced die-offs, with one respondent reporting some farmers have bulldozed almond trees and others have pruned trees substantially or stripped fruit to save the trees due to expected shortfalls in water deliveries.
On a weighted average, reduced surface water deliveries scored near the very prevalent threshold, with increases in groundwater use rated near prevalent.
One respondent reported starting well water pumping in mid-April as opposed to the normal start time in mid-July. Another reported the reservoir he uses for irrigation water storage was 58% of its normal level. Another reported trucking water to pasture — something his family has never had to do in 80 years of operation.
Hawaii rated reduced water deliveries as extremely prevalent. California, Colorado Nevada, Oregon and Utah scored reduced water deliveries as very prevalent.
California, Nevada and New Mexico rated increased groundwater use as very prevalent. Oregon scored increased groundwater use as moderately prevalent.
Washington rated both reduced water deliveries and increased groundwater use as moderately prevalent.
Idaho rated reduced water deliveries as prevalent and increased groundwater use as moderately prevalent.