Drought-ravaged corn is starving the cattle industry and hiking up grocery bills


Drought is taking its toll on corn crops across the Great Plans and threatening to take cattle ranches down too. For more than two years, at least 40% of the U.S. has endured a moderate drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Now the prolonged rain shortage is causing the dominoes to fall across the area. Corn makes up about 95% of the primary feed grain for cattle in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Hogs and poultry also eat corn.

Drought-ravaged corn is starving the cattle industry and hiking up grocery bills
The yellow on the chart shows the number of billions of bushels corn provides to the U.S. feed grain production, as of September. 2021 was also a drought year. Picture: USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service

I’m standing in the middle of a cornfield that, if this was a normal year or in other words, if the corn was growing the way it was supposed to be, you wouldn’t even really be able to see me right now,” FOX Business’ Connell McShane reported from Wakefield, Nebraska. “It would be way up above my head. But now I look at this, maybe knee-high at best.

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McShane visited field after field in Wayne County and found the same short stalks with very sparse ears. Over 99% of that county is in exceptional drought.

It seems like we are just so dry and I really don’t know what’s going to change that,” Felt Farms rancher, Merlin Felt, told McShane.

Drought-ravaged corn is starving the cattle industry and hiking up grocery bills
40% of the country is in at least moderate drought. Picture by FOX Weather

Felt said that if the drought continues, he will need beef prices to go up by 30% by next year, just to break even.

Corn production and quality down

The USDA reports that corn production is 172.5 bushels per acre, down 8% from last year. The agency even downgraded its own estimate from last month by 2.9 bushels per acre as drought conditions persist. Making matters worse, only 54% of the year’s corn crop is reported in good to excellent condition.

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More farmers find themselves victims of drought. In recent years higher corn prices due to strong domestic demand for livestock feed and ethanol prompted many farmers to shift from other crops to corn, according to the USDA.

Drought-ravaged corn is starving the cattle industry and hiking up grocery bills
States in the corn belt can only produce a percentage of what the crop would produce in a non-drought year. Picture: US Drought Monitor, NASS 2017 Census of Agriculture / FOX Weather

But, drought conditions have caused a pullback. Just in this past year of drought, the USDA data shows areas planted in corn dropped 5% to 80.8 million acres – that is down 1 % from last month and down 5% from what was harvested last year. That further drops the corn supply.

Beef prices already up since 2021

Beef and veal prices are already up 2.5% since last August per the USDA. The agency forecasts a further increase of 5.5% to 6.5% through the end of the year.

While shoppers have noticed the increase in prices, a bigger hike could be on the horizon. Farm-level cattle prices are up 17.6% from last year reports the USDA. Unfortunately for Felt Farms, the price is well below the 30% Felt is hoping for.

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Western ranches have already started culling their herds on cattle ranches and dairy farms due to drought.

Around 40% of domestic corn goes to feed corn. Almost 45% goes to fuel ethanol production. Traditionally, 10% to 15% is exported. The amount exported could change due to the war in Ukraine. The country is traditionally a significant corn producer. The rest is used for seed and industrial uses like sweeteners, according to the USDA. [Fox, Drought Monitor, USDA, USDA, USDA]

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  1. Need to stop using corn for ethanol. Adding to gasoline was the dumbest thing ever.
    Lowers your mileage and destroys your engine.

  2. Like family in the ranching business always said, corn to cattle and candy to kids, the less the better. The major cause of feedlot deaths in heart attacks and next is a blown stomach. Animals have to be fed antibiotics because they live in their own wastes. Over half of the livers are sent for dogfood because they’re thick with pockets of pus from grain. Look up Gabe Brown on YouTube. He ranches 5,000 acres in N. Dakota and his fields are drought tolerant thanks to cover crops and cattle.

    • Ratty,
      I quit eating corn. It’s not the same as when I grew up. Quit wheat and white flour too. I also noticed if my dogs eat any of the cracked corn (for my fowl), the dogs get itchy scratchy. So, I have to leash my dogs and walk them for their business on my ranch now. My lab especially. She is sneaky.

  3. I don’t know where you get your corn info unless you are including hay as “corn”??? Most farmers/cattle ranchers use ground hay and silage with *some* corn. 95% No way, not nutritive enough.

  4. What’s Sad is there is plenty of pure water available and has been identified and revealed for a decade…it’s called “Deep Water” and is available by drilling 4,000-5,000ft down (Oil drillers go that deep and deeper) and would solve the entire SO-CALLED DROUGHT overnight worldwide! Visit: StoptheCrime.net and search “Deep Water”. Your Government is lying to you!! Get it?

  5. Was paying $13 for a 50 lb. bag of cracked corn. Now, $18 a bag. Was using 250 lbs. per week. Now, 100 lbs. Went from 12 geese, 42 ducks, and 40 hens down to 4 geese, 16 ducks, 5 hens. Had to downsize.

    The wild critters cut into feed when you put it out too. One advantage though. I have at least 2 dozen dove feeding off my corn. So, if times get tough, there’s dove and rabbits for meat sources. Was going to raise some pigs, but shitcanned that idea.

    • 50,

      Wild game will get used up very fast. That’s what happened in the 1930s. Friend of mine said his father told him if you crossed the track of a deer, you followed it until you got it. You want to reconsider livestock. Goats are the easiest. There’s a reason you see them all over the 3rd world. Sheep. Only thing with sheep is you have to shear them. Back to the goats, a milker is perfect. The pilgrims didn’t thrive until dairy animals were brought over. A milk cow will provide all the protein a family of 4 will need. Need some good pasture. Goats munch on anything like a deer. And they follow you around. Cute though. Hard to kill one.

      • Yeah Gary, I have eaten goat before. My aunt ranched them. I like geese and duck. Like Laura Ann, I get attached to them. Mine all have names, and I name ’em off in my prayers at night too. Lol.

        Probably wouldn’t eat them unless an emergency. I really go for the geese and duck eggs though.

        We have elk, mulies, antelope here too. Probably have to break out the old Weatherby, and knock ’em down. Might feel bad, but they are deeelicious.

    • Some raise a small flock of goats, problem is I would get emotionally attached, as they are like pets. I have had dove not that good (tough) should be marinated first. Then add BBQ sauce while grilling.

      • Laura Ann,
        Yeah, see you get attached to them too. I have the land for grazing animals, but we have bear and mountain lions. My geese and duck hang out under my trees and house deck, so they are protected by serious fences (electrified and razor wire) around my fenced house acres. I only have barbed wire for grazing acres, so that would invite bear and mountain lions.

        I just breast dove, and marinate them. They taste deelicious. I cook the pieces slow ‘n low in rice and sauces too.

      • Laura,
        Me too. The real world of having to kill these beautiful creatures is hard. I will never like it. Keep having to tell myself it’s how the world works. I know us humans need animal protein. But I don’t like doing it.

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