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Dry Weather and Drought - A Worry to Producers

19 March 2012

ANALYSIS - Recently drought and dry weather seems to have dominated the news, writes Charlotte Johnston, TheCattleSite editor.

In the European Union, after an extremely dry winter, the Spanish feed sector is facing new challenges, with low availability of water for irrigation.

Spain represents over 50 per cent of the total dried fodder production in the EU, with alfalfa being the number one crop. With subsidy payments declining and drought affecting production, it is expected that this year yields will decline.

Pasture land has been affected by dry conditions and less pasture availability is forcing extensive livestock farmers to increase input costs by supplementing their animals in quantities over normal levels.

The expectations for grain yields are not much better, with initial soil moisture, essential for crop development, particularly low.

Crops in Andalucía, Castile-La Mancha and Aragón already show signs of lowered vegetation health.

In the United Kingdom, drought is already preventing water abstraction affecting crop farmers. This week the Environment Agency has warned that limited grass growth and water shortages could affect supplies of drinking water for livestock.

The European Feed Manufacturers Federation (FEFAC) has reported that compound feed production estimates in the European Union are down slightly for 2011. For cattle compound feed, a severe drought in early 2011 affected forage stocks, despite a good Autumn that favoured grass growth.

In 2012, FEFAC expects compound feed production to remain unchanged from 2011 figures.

In the United States dry weather is worrying producers, with again, a lack of moisture for the upcoming crop season. Total precipitation was less than 50 per cent of normal in much of the Great Lakes region and the Southwest.

Current grain shortages could push Mexico’s imports this year above 9.5 million metric tons (374 million bushels) of corn and sorghum above three million tons (118 million bushels).

While crop losses are likely to create more demand for imports, especially from the US, the drought-related losses in the livestock sector are a potential offset. Mexico’s ministry of agriculture estimates that 60,000 cattle have died and an additional 89,000 have been culled by producers.

Drought conditions in Brazil and Argentina have severely damaged crops, with some farmers in Argentina having reportedly abandoned crops, or replanted land with soybeans.

It was also announced this week that China's groundwater irrigation system is responsible for polluting the atmosphere with more than 30 million tonnes of CO2 per year. China is actively looking to increase livestock production, however how sustainable this aim is, is questionable when it takes 500 litres of water to grow the wheat for one small loaf of bread.

For livestock producers and packers this drought is just one more threat to their margins.

With severe drought and dry conditions already affecting 2012 crops, there will undoubtedly be an effect on crop prices. How this will affect livestock producers is relatively unknown as many countries are likely to see herds liquidate.

Despite crops suffering, there is still resistance in the EU, in particular, to adopt genetically modified (GM) technology.

Charlotte Johnston, Editor

Charlotte Johnston - Editor



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