CONWAY COUNTY, Ark. — The heat is doing more than making us uncomfortable outside. It’s also laying the groundwork to make the meat we buy more expensive.

Just like we must eat, so does the meat we eat, and trying to feed cows in a drought is affecting the size of each herd.

The summer sun and dry conditions are sucking the life out of the ground and in turn the herds of Arkansas farmers.

“That’s the biggest concern is Mother Nature throwing you a curve ball,” expressed Phillip DeSalvo’s, a cattle farmer in Conway County.

Phillip DeSalvo’s cattle on Big D Ranch would normally be feeding on green grass this time of year, but instead, they are relying on feed and hay which increases the operating costs per cow from 63 cents to $2.48 cents every day.

“Most people budget for that $2.48 for roughly four months out of the year, so if we start now in July, we’re going to add five months to our four months. That’s why you’re seeing record numbers of cattle going to sale,” DeSalvo explained.

According to the Department of Agriculture, some cattle auctions are selling double what they typically sell this week. It starts with the old, and young, but eventually, the mothers are responsible for the next generation. Once those are off the farm and to the butcher, ranchers would basically have to start over from square one.

“That’s when folks will start liquidating farms,” said Patrick Fisk, Arkansas Department of Agriculture Livestock and Poultry Commission Director.

But how will that steer the consumer? 

John Anderson,  Head of Agricultural Economics at the University of Arkansas, explained,

“Drought dynamics in the cattle market can be complicated.  In the short run,  cow culling due to the drought should increase the supply of low-end products (i.e., mostly hamburgers).  All else equal, that will reduce price.  Given overall inflationary pressure and stride and right now, prices may not change much this time, though. Longer term, the reduction in cow numbers will equate to smaller calf crops and reduced beef supply (and, all else equal, higher prices).  It will take a couple of years for that to materialize, though.”

To mitigate the impact on your wallet, DeSalvo’s advice is, “Get acquainted with your local producers that are selling it farm to fork. That’s the easiest way to stay on top of this as the market fluctuates throughout the grocery stores.”

Ranchers are already comparing 2022 with 1980 when dry, hot weather forced farmers to flood the market with their cows.

Inflation has also placed its toll on ranchers. Apart from diesel and feed price increases, DeSalvo said fertilizer for their hay production tripled in price in a matter of six months. This caused many farmers to limit how much they bought contributing to the harm the drought is causing.

“You’re very much seeing a perfect storm in the cattle market right now,” DeSalvo stated.

According to Fisk and the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, cattle are seeing the worst of this drought now, but if conditions persist, the drought’s effects will be felt in other industries including poultry, pork, goats, and more.