Western farmers suffering under drought conditions
More than 60% of the U.S. West, Southwest and Central Plains are experiencing ongoing severe drought, and agricultural producers in those areas are facing difficult choices as a result.
According to results from a American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) survey of western farmers and ranchers, those in areas facing persistent, severe drought produce more than 80% of fruits, nuts and vegetables, more than 80% of wheat, more than 50% of dairy, and more than 70% of beef in the U.S. The impact of the drought could place added strains on the supply chain and overall economy as American jobs and food security depend on this region.
Across the surveyed region, respondents expected average crop yields to be down 38% this year because of drought conditions.
Two-thirds of the farmers and ranchers responding to the survey reported prevalence of selling off portions of their herds or flocks, with average herd sizes expected to be down 36% in the surveyed region.
In Texas, some cotton-growing areas have received virtually no precipitation in more than a year, and some farmers had to abandon irrigated cotton acres, according to Texas Farm Bureau. Texas is the nation’s largest cotton-producing state, and the 2022 crop is taking a big hit.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service August Crop Production report forecast Texas cotton production at 2.9 million bales, down 62% from 2021, when Texas growers produced 7.7 million bales. In terms of percentage, Oklahoma cotton growers are expected to sustain a similar drop, from 693,000 bales in 2021 to 270,000 bales in 2022, a decline of 61%.
Texas is also the second-ranked peanut-producing state, behind Georgia. The Texas Peanut Producers Board reported that drought conditions have led to 40% losses in yield and abandoned acres, despite the state’s peanut fields being almost 100% irrigated.
Western cattle producers are placing more cattle on feed in preparation for slaughter. According to the AFBF’s Aug. 2 Market Intel, the national cattle inventory was 98.8 million head, down 2% from 2021. More cattle are being sold for slaughter; in June 2022, producers sold 2.06 million head of cattle, up 2% from June 2021.
Producers are putting more replacement heifers on feed for slaughter. The number of heifers and heifer calves on feed was 4.45 million on July 1, up 3% from July 2021, which could mean smaller cattle supply in 2023.
In California, where the bulk of U.S. processed tomatoes are grown, the crop is tracking toward the state’s smallest since 2017. Some growers attribute the smaller crop to unseasonably hot weather in the spring. The California Tomato Growers Association estimates the crop could come in 5% lower than NASS projections. The shortage of tomatoes used in processed products may cause a shortage of ketchup, salsa and pasta sauce or increase prices for these products.