U.S. drought will put brakes on bison herd expansion

QUEBEC CITY — The dusty tentacles of drought are touching all agricultural sectors in North America and the bison industry is no exception.

Both the Canadian and the U.S. based National Bison Association say demand for bison meat exceeds supply but the drought will likely prolong the industry’s ability to increase herds and product.

“Our concern is that we don’t experience sort of a big selloff in the breeding herd just because people are unable to maintain them or access feed,” said Canadian Bison Association president Mark Silzer, in an interview after the international bison conference.

“We need to be growing the supply side of this and there’s so much potential out there. We need to make sure that we can maintain the markets that we have.”

NBA president Peter Cook, who has bison ranches in Indiana and North Dakota, said producers may have to sell off breeding animals because of low feed supplies, which will put more meat on the market in the short-term but less in coming years while herds rebuild.

“In the short term, I think there’ll be more supply because I think you’re going to see a lot of cows culled. A lot of guys like to skip corners and don’t feed as much hay as they should.… Then you have a lot of open cows,” said Cook.

He said Indiana is extremely dry but he has managed feed supplies using irrigated pasture. In North Dakota, dry conditions are not as severe.

“I think we’ll be fine,” he said.

Conditions are not as favorable in many parts of the U.S. Midwest. On Aug. 1, U.S. agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack designated an additional 218 counties in 12 states as disaster areas due to drought and excessive heat.

More than half of all counties in the U.S. have been so designated this year, according to a USDA news release.

Hardest hit by drought and heat are Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming.

Vilsack also announced emergency haying and grazing of 3.8 million acres of land in the conservation reserve program. He had previously announced grazing availability in designated wetland reserves as well.

Agricultural finance expert David Kohl said July 26 that he has been travelling through drought areas of the U.S. and he has concerns on both national and international levels.

“This drought is lining up right over our production areas, not only here, but in India and in Russia, so it’s having a worldwide impact,” said Kohl.

“One question I have is, is it going to be back to back? If it is, we are going to have some food security issues.”

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