Iowa Public Television


Water Problems Plague West

posted on June 1, 2001

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.

The nation's economy continues to drift. The labor department is adjusting its unemployment statistics. A quick glance shows unemployment falling, but companies continue to announce summer lay-offs and manufacturing activity continues to ebb as consumer apathy deepens.

In Rural America much more fundamental forces drive the economy. Weather is always a factor. And its impact can vary greatly – sometimes within the same region. A case in point can be found on the Northern Plains where some cattlemen are struggling to survive despite a favorable market climate.


With snow-pack at record lows and rainfall below normal, Montana ranchers are going through their second consecutive year of severe drought. This week, in response to the harsh conditions, Secretary of Agriculture Anne Veneman declared the entire state a drought disaster area.

Across the state, 63% of all pastureland is rated poor to very poor. The hay crop isn't fairing much better. With rainfall at 30 to 50% below normal this year's harvest is in jeopardy. Scarcity of the forage crop has driven the price in some areas up to $200 per ton.

The price of hay, coupled with the grim pasture conditions and low rainfall, is motivating some ranchers to look for grazing land outside the state. The call for transportation has truckers struggling to keep up with demand to move the undernourished cattle to grass as far away as southern Iowa and northern Missouri. To make ends meet producers have also begun selling off parts of their herds. Despite the sell-off by ranchers, analysts predict prices will be unaffected as the same number of cattle will remain in the pipeline.


Tags: agriculture crops drought news water weather