Drought Costs Texas Billions, Consumers Face Higher Beef Prices

The impact of this lingering drought will continue into the new year as thousands of Texas cattle raisers have sold out.  They just can't afford to feed and water their herds.

The Texas Cooperative Extension Service says between cattle and crops, this drought has cost texas $4.1 billion just to this date.  The costliest drought before?  It was 1998, and that was $2.1 billion for the whole year.

"It's real hard," says cattle raiser Steve Carpenter.  "We've got some $3,000 to $5,000 cows we're taking $700 for."

For Carpenter and countless other Texas cattle ranchers, this year has been the breaking point.

"We could stand 20 inches [of rain.] It could sit here and rain for a week and it wouldn't hurt a thing."

But it wouldn't help in some respects at this point.  His 100 head Charolais herd is down to 60.  The cattle had to go as the hay this year just won't grow.

"Our fields, which usually make 160 to 200 rolls [of hay] made 67 rolls.  It's just not there," he says.

"We need something in the neighborhood of 100,000 gallons an acre to get that crop," says Extension agent Brian Triplett.  He says you can't truck in enough water.  And even now, if the rain began, production would be limited as the weather cools.

"So even if we get a lot of rain, we may not have as much growth going into the fall," he says.

When cattle raisers sell out, there are fewer cows going to market from here on.

"It'll be a shortage of supply and demand. I just don't think [at-market cattle] be there like they have in the past," Carpenter says.

That could hike the price of beef and everything else that comes from this herd -- things consumers buy every day.

"So we're going to have to rely on outside beef either from other states or other countries."

That is, until a lot of rain, then much time to recover.

It's a trickle-down effect when cattle raisers have to sell out.  Feed stores, fertilizer manufacturers, and those who sell tractors and equipment all lose out.   In fact, the Cooperative Extension Service says while the losses for cattle and crops is at $4.1 billion, the total economic impact this year has been nearly twice that.

Reported by Morgan Palmer.