Dakota Cattle Selloff Continues Amid Drought

It’s so hot and dry in northern parts of the U.S. that cattle ranchers are frantically selling off animals to trim their herds as hay crops and pasturelands wither.
There were so many cows, calves and pairs of the animals available for sale at a recent livestock auction in Aberdeen, South Dakota that bidding lasted 15 hours, said Steve Hellwig, the co-owner of Hub City Livestock Auction who chanted the rhythmic repetition of prices until 1:30 a.m.
Sales for the day reached a record 2,480 lots, or more than three times the normal weekly total.
Prices for spring wheat, grown in the area, have soared 16 percent this month as volatility jumped.
“Probably more than 70 percent of the cows that sold would have ended up as hamburger later this year — the drought sped up the liquidation,” Hellwig said.
Emergency Grazing The dry conditions spurred the National Farmers Union along with groups from Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota to send a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue this week requesting that land in a federal conservation program be released for emergency grazing or haying.
About half of South Dakota, two-thirds of North Dakota and a quarter of Montana are in moderate drought or worse, according to U.S. Drought Monitor data as of June 20.
Some cattle have been sold to ranches in Wyoming and Nebraska, where grazing conditions were more favorable, said Tim Petry, a livestock marketing economist at North Dakota State University.
Limited Consumer Impact “Other parts of the country have very excellent conditions, so it’s likely they have been selling fewer cows because there’s herd rebuilding,” Petry said.
“So far, it really hasn’t increased beef production to affect the consumer at all.” The USDA’s monthly cattle-on-feed report on Friday may give the market a first indication of the number of animals being sold.

Learn More