The lingering drought spanning much of the nation is leaving farmers with wizened pastures and crops, forcing them to sell off cattle—and fast. The AP spoke to several ranchers, including Ken Grecian of Kansas, who has already sold 40 pairs of cows and calves since the dry spell began. It's not the first time that ranchers have had to get rid of cattle because of drought, but in previous years, non-affected states were able to absorb the loss. This drought is so widespread, however, that won't be as easy, and the result is likely to sharply drive up meat prices come January.
Some figures to quench your thirst: On Friday, the USDA released its twice-yearly report of the cattle industry, and this month's number, 97.8 million heads, is the smallest since 1973 and a full 2% less than July 2011. Don't expect the ranchers to bounce back when the rain finally falls, either. Grecian said the last time he had to sell off cattle because of drought, it took him six years to recover.