Cattle ranchers are facing some tough decisions in the coming months as a drier-than-average year could lead to the need to sell off some of their herds heading into 2020.

“This year has been very dry,” Kleberg-Kenedy County Extension Agent Frank Escobedo said. “We started off last fall with some moisture in the ground, but overall for the year we’re probably about six to eight inches below from where we need to be.”

Escobedo said going into 2019, Kleberg County had a good amount of soil moisture from the previous year’s rainfall.

“But then January, February and even mid-March was pretty dry,” he said. 

Escobedo said while late March, April and early June brought in some rain, after that “the faucet was turned off.”

“And then we didn’t get anything until about a month ago,” he said. “Typically, our average down here is between 18 to 23 inches of rain for the year.”

Escobedo said the county isn’t in a drought situation at this time. However, with the start of the fall season and expected cooler temperatures, he said grass growth will begin to slow down, providing less forage for grazing cattle.

“You can walk some of these pastures already, and it’s bare,” Escobedo said. “So our cattle producers, they are going to need to make some tough decisions right now in terms of what they’re going to do. Less forage when you have the same amount of head, you’re going to have to supplement the feed.

“And that’s the last thing a producer needs, especially right now with the cost of storing the feed and the low commodity prices for cattle. They’re going to have to make some decisions about what they need to sell and what they need to keep.”

Escobedo said market prices for cattle typically go down during the fall as “the market gets flooded by the amount of cattle going in,” along with a drop in consumer spending on beef products.

“Fall prices are going to hurt producers,” he said.

As for area farmers, Escobedo said the rains came at the right time this year, which led to “some really good yields” in cotton and grain harvests.

“When the plants needed the rain, which was late March and April, we got what we needed,” he said. “For cotton, we were seeing about 1.75 bales (per acre), which is good, and with our grain we average anywhere between 4,500 on the low end to 6-7,000 (per acre). Those are good yields.”

While corn is not typically grown in large quantities in Kleberg County, Escobedo said 2019 was one of the best years in the last decade for the crop locally.

“We averaged about 110 bushels per acre,” he said.

Heading into 2020, Escobedo said next year’s crops will depend largely on the amount of rain Kleberg County receives in the fall.

“If we get some more rainfall, then we are definitely going to be okay,” he said. “Planting starts in the middle of February, but we need a lot of sub-soil moisture. We’ve already depleted the top layer (of moisture).”

While fall rains would help area farmers, Escobedo said they would still be too late to help cattle ranchers heading into the winter season.

“Unfortunately for the cattle market, the prices will still keep going down,” he said. “We’d still get some fall grasses and we would definitely benefit from it, but a lot of that depends on what happens between now and the time we start getting cold fronts when the grass stops growing.”

Anthony Ruiz can be contacted at aruiz@king-ranch.com or (361) 221-0251.

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