Issues of concern to people who live in the west: property rights, water rights, endangered species, livestock grazing, energy production, wilderness and western agriculture. Plus a few items on western history, western literature and the sport of rodeo... Frank DuBois served as the NM Secretary of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003. DuBois is a former legislative assistant to a U.S. Senator, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior, and is the founder of the DuBois Rodeo Scholarship.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
U.S. Ranchers Struggle to Adapt to Climate Change
For western Colorado ranchers, the decision to sell cattle during tough times can hinge on a flower. Local cattle have developed immunity against the poisonous larkspur that live among more edible grasses. So a rancher culling a herd he can't afford to feed faces a problem restocking once economics improve: The replacements may die if they binge on the purple and pink larkspur. That's the problem confronting Carlyle Currier, who owns a 4,000-acre ranch in Molina, Colo. and is mulling a decision to trim his herd of 500 Angus-Hereford-Charolais hybrids. Basic economics also worry him; he knows that he may well have to pay more later to buy replacement calves if the price per head of cattle rises from today's rock-bottom lows. But like many ranchers across the West and central plains, Currier has little choice. This year's record drought has made his operation untenable. "This is probably the worst it's been since 1977," Currier says. "We just can't grow enough to feed the cattle ourselves." Welcome to the new normal. The drought has pressured ranchers across the West to sell breeding cattle, take on more debt, or seek supplemental work off the farm. Some, particularly in Texas last year during a crushingly severe drought, have even liquidated the whole ranch. The drought has killed off much of the natural forage on grazing pastures as well as the alfalfa that Currier and other ranchers typically grow, forcing them to dig into savings to buy hay, straw, soybean supplements and other alternative feeds. Supply shortages have sent corn and soybean prices to record heights...Farmers may not call it climate change, or attribute it to human activity. But many are scrambling to adapt – or make themselves more resilient – to a future of greater uncertainty and risk. Their survival kit consists of a mixture of emerging cattle-breeding technology, sustainable rangeland and farmland practices, and new business plans...more