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Ranchers' drought aid hope running dry

OMAHA, Neb. -- It's hard to tell what frustrates Todd Eggerling more, the weather or Congress.

Searing temperatures and drought scorched Eggerling's land in southeast Nebraska, leaving little grass to feed his 100 cattle. Then Congress left for a five-week break without agreeing on aid to help ranchers through one of the nation's worst droughts.

It will be September before Eggerling and other ranchers can even hope for disaster aid legislation that includes cash to buy feed until they would normally send their cattle to feedlots or slaughter in the fall or winter. For some, it's already too late. Out of grass and out of cash, they've sold their animals.

For others, time is rapidly running out as they try to hold on. Their decisions will affect the price and supply of meat for months, perhaps years, to come.

"I'd like to see every one of the senators and congressmen go out into one of these . . . drought-stricken areas and spend a day," said Eggerling, 44, of Martell, Neb. "Then they can go back to Washington with a real perspective and say, 'Hey; we need to do something.' "

Farmers are having a hard year with drought and heat burning up everything from corn to cabbage. Ranchers are in a particularly precarious position because most don't have access to federally subsidized insurance programs that cover crops like corn and soybeans.

Feed prices soared, and livestock farmers have been selling off animals for months as they run out of money. The meat is expected to hit grocery stores this fall, with prices dropping briefly and then rising early next year.

Meanwhile, farmers are getting a fraction of what their animals would normally be worth at sales. -- AP

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