October 11, 2011

This Long Weekend’s News: In Texas, Drought-Driven Cattle Find Grazing Grounds in the North

Without the right context it is sometimes difficult to
understand what abstract concepts like “climate impacts” mean. But with the
right context the consequences become quite clear – and stark. The Sunday Los Angeles Times provides the latter
with a bleak report on the impact Texas’s drought is having on the state’s cattle
industry: “Texas
Driving Its Cattle North Amid Drought

The opening few paragraphs of the report read like a Steinbeck
novel, reminiscent of the turtle, the Dust Bowl and the struggle the Okies
faced in his opus The Grapes of Wrath.
The Los Angeles Times reported:

The cowboys rose well before dawn,
stars still high in the West Texas sky. They strapped on spurs and leather
chaps and climbed into their saddles for one last roundup

They didn't have to do much to rustle the cattle from the dusty flats about 220
miles west of Dallas. Hundreds of hungry black Angus and Herefords, tired of
foraging for scarce, drought-dry grass, came running — drawn by the hope of
feed. The cowboys herded the youngest, thinnest and weakest animals into a
separate pen, some with ribs and hipbones jutting after weeks without a decent

The best cattle from Swenson Land & Cattle Co. Inc. will make the trip

It's a journey born of desperation, a costly cattle drive fueled not by
tradition or buyers at Midwest packing houses, but by the desire to survive the
lengthening statewide drought.

It is increasingly clear that Texas is in the midst of one
of the worst droughts in recent memory, a drought that is taking a serious toll
on one of the state’s most important industries. To adapt to their new reality,
ranchers are forced to ship their livestock north to fertile grazing grounds. “The
number of breeding cows shipped out of state increased 140% in September
compared with the same month last year, with 145,000 cattle exported, according
to the Texas Animal Health Commission
,” the Los
Angeles Times
reported. “By January, about 12% of Texas’s roughly 5 million
head of cattle will have disappeared since last year — shipped, slaughtered or
sold, according to David Anderson, an economist with the Texas AgriLife
Extension Service, an agriculture education agency based at Texas A&M

The economic implications of the drought are worrying. “Texas,
with the nation's largest cattle industry, provides 16% of America's beef,”
according to the Los Angeles Times. “U.S.
beef prices are expected to increase this year as much as 8%, twice the
increase in overall food costs, according to the Department of Agriculture.” Meanwhile,
the drought has had a serious impact on the greater Texas agricultural industry
as well, with more than $5.2 billion in total losses. To make matters worse,
experts say there is “No relief is in sight and the state climatologist says
this could be the start of a 10-year drought, part of changing weather patterns

Texas’s tale is tragic, but it provides some striking insights
into what could play out in other parts of the United States, like in
California where agriculture is an economic pillar. Moreover – and perhaps more
relevant to our security audience – what’s happening in Texas could provide
policymakers insight into what may happen in other parts of the world that are
facing the effects of climate change – those places that like Texas could
experience crippling drought. And while scientists are quick and right not to assume
that Texas’s drought is directly caused by climate change, similar consequences from drought are likely to manifest in other places where climate change is

What does that portend then for agricultural industries in
other parts of the world that are not as resilient as the cattle industry in
Texas? Indeed, in
countries where agricultural production is an economic mainstay – like in
Afghanistan, for example – how ranchers and other farmers adapt could have
implications for long-term stability. It is something to think about.

This Week’s Events

Today at 12:15 PM, the University of Maryland’s School of
Public Policy will host an event on Governing through Tort
Litigation: Global Warming, Tobacco, and Lead
. At 4:30 PM the World
Resources Institute will discuss Transmission
Successes: Preparing the Grid for Low Carbon Power

On Wednesday at 9:30 AM, CSIS will host National
Petroleum Council Report: Prudent Development of North America's Oil & Gas
. At 12:30 PM, the Wilson Center will launch a new GAO report, Climate Engineering; Technical
Status, Future Directions, and Potential Responses

On Thursday at 8 AM, The
will discuss Feeding Future
Generations: Supporting Sustainable Global Food Production
. At 12:30 PM,
head over to the George Washington University’s Elliot School to learn What
to do with America's Nuclear Waste?

Finally on Friday at 12:45, go over to Resources for the
Future for an event on American
Public Opinion on Climate Change and Its Impact on Voting in Congressional and
Presidential Elections