By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, October 13, 2016, due to worsening drought conditions the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, in cooperation with the Alabama Agribusiness Council, the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the Alabama Farmers Federation, are launching an online hay listing.
Commissioner of Alabama Agriculture and Industries John McMillan (R) said, “I have seen first-hand how dry some of our farms in Alabama are and we have not even entered the winter months. We are grateful for the working relationship with all of our stakeholders. They always stand ready to work together to help Alabama farmers.”
As of October 12, 2016, 26 primary counties in Alabama have been designated as primary natural disaster areas and 14 additional counties are classified as contiguous by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) due to damages and losses caused by the recent drought. Extreme drought conditions have caused producers to be in desperate need of immediate assistance to provide hay for their farm animals.
Most Alabama farmers were not able to get a September/October hay cutting and soil conditions through much of the state are too dry to plant cool season forage crops like wheat, rye, ryegrass, oats, annual clovers etc. Poor growing conditions mean that few farmers have stockpiled forage crops, thus hay demand is much greater in a normal year, while local supply is extremely limited. This means more hay will have to be hauled longer distances than normal.
On Saturday the Alabama Cattleman’s Association said in a statement, “We just got word that ALDOT has approved our request for a special Drought Emergency Declaration for hay hauling. Permits are available for loads up to 12′ wide and 14′ high up to 80,000 lbs. on five axles. The PERMIT FEES are WAIVED. Simply call the permit office at 1-800-499-2782.”
Wildlife, including deer and turkey, will likely be adversely affected particularly if the first hard frosts arrive before the drought breaks.
Alabama’s agriculture stakeholders met last week to determine ways to assist livestock producers.
The Alabama Hay Listing page will be hosted on the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries’ website.
To make matters even worse, prices for cattle have been dropping for the last 18 months. Fattened cattle sold on a live weight basis are averaging 97.59 cents per pound, which is down 25.61 cents a pound from just one year ago. This is the first week that fed cattle prices have dropped below $1 a pound since December 2010. Most Alabama market cattle are sold as feeder calves (5 to 10 months of age) and then are shipped to feedlots in western states including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, etc. Prices for 500 to 550 pound feeder steers were ranging from $1.14 a pound to $1.32 a pound (~$646 per head). The futures price for January steers is just $1.12 a pound ($588 a head). Alabama prices typically are on the lower end of the range due to transportation costs. Cull cow prices have similarly collapsed and local drought conditions have likely diminished the demand for replacement heifers.
To this point the packers and retailers are enjoying higher profits and have not significantly passed their savings on to consumers. The U.S. recently opened American markets to fresh beef from Brazil, which could lead to increased supply and potentially also help to keep beef prices low.