The air is still and dusty in the Missouri State Fair swine pavilion where farmer Gary Kitsmiller, of Nevada, Mo., has just finished showing his Chester, Spot and Durock hogs. He says although he’s been spraying them with misters ever hour or so in their cages, the hogs are still getting hot. That’s not good for their appetites.
“Some of these should be bigger quality than they are,” said Kitsmiller, surveying his and other farmers’ hogs in the vast pavilion. “A hog usually averages about two pounds a day. All this heat, they’re just keeping up and maintaining their body weight, that’s all. They won’t gain.”
Many Missouri farmers and ranchers at this year’s state fair say this summer, with its record triple-digit temperatures and extremely low rainfall, has hit their livestock hard. Besides weighing less than in previous years, the animals are not as healthy as they could be and are costlier to take care of. Things aren’t exactly looking up. Friday’s USDA World Agricultural Supply and Demand report forecast that the corn yield for the coming year would be the lowest since 1995 and that soybean yields would be the lowest since 2003. Farmers say the low yields have already sent their feed prices up.
In the last two weeks, the cost of feed has gone up a dollar a bag, says Gene Gillispie, of Vienna, Mo., who is sitting in a lawnchair at the end of a row of prized birds in cages. The small vegetable, fruit and poultry farmer has shown broiler hens and rabbits at the state fair since 1971. “For the consumer, it would definitely affect them in the end.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack hasn’t yet conceded that the low crop yields and high feed prices will drive up consumer food prices. But on Monday the USDA did announce it would purchase up to $170 million of pork, lamb, chicken and catfish from livestock producers to offset pressure they’re feeling during the drought.
“The purchases will help mitigate further downward prices, stabilize market conditions, and provide high quality, nutritious food to recipients of USDA's nutrition programs,” Vilsack said in a press release.
Darrell Crawford, who has 120 heads of Angus commercial cattle and rows 850 acres of crop in Windsor, Mo., says his cows aren’t as healthy this year since there’s no pasture for them to graze on. He’s been feeding them hay since the beginning of July.
“And so you have to supplement other stuff for them to get by and you put a lot more money into them,” said Crawford, who was waiting outside the dairy barns for his grandson to bring out his cow to show. “That’s going to make it rough later if we have a hard winter.”
Farmers looking for feed may also run into problems in his area, which is 25 miles southwest of Sedalia. Crawford says he’s heard local elevators won’t have enough grain to sell all their customers.
“So it’s, it’s really bad,” he said, as a gust of hot wind blew dry hay toward him. “It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it since I’ve been here.”