Years of drought hurts beef industry

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WICHITA, Kan. -- Years of drought are reshaping the U.S. beef industry with feedlots and a major meatpacking plant closing because there are too few cattle left in the United States to support them.

Some feedlots in major cattle-producing states have already been dismantled, and others sit empty. Operators say they don't expect a recovery soon, with high feed prices, much of the country still in drought and a long time needed to rebuild herds.

The closures are the latest ripple in the shock wave the drought sent through rural communities. Most cattle in the United States are sent to feedlots for final fattening before slaughter. The dwindling number of animals also is hurting meatpackers, with their much larger workforces. For consumers, the impact will be felt in grocery and restaurant bills as a smaller meat supply means higher prices.

Texas, the largest beef-producing state, has been particularly hard hit with a historic drought in 2011 from which it still hasn't fully recovered.

Given the cost of transporting cattle, most of the nation's feed yards and slaughterhouses are in the big cattle-producing states of the High Plains. While the industry has been gradually shifting north from Texas into areas that are expected to more rapidly recover from the drought, businesses in Kansas and Nebraska are struggling, too. -- AP

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