John Anderson, AFBF’s livestock economist, says there are additional implications for the beef cattle market due to drought.

“Lack of forage availability will make herd expansion impossible in the affected areas,” Anderson explains. Given that the affected states represent some of the largest cow/calf producing states in the country, Anderson expects the size of the national cow herd to shrink again this year as farmers are forced to sell animals they can no longer feed.

Wheat farmers in the region are also suffering from the drought. The hard red winter wheat crop has been particularly hard-hit. According to Todd Davis, AFBF crops economist, the drought could also reduce the nation’s corn crop at a time where every bushel is needed.

“The drought will exacerbate an already bad start to the planting and early growing season,” Davis says. “Because it is harvested in late summer, the corn crop in the southern states is the first of the 2011 crop to enter the market and reduce concerns about tight corn stocks. This year we need every bushel of corn we can find to meet strong demand.”

One small, bright spot related to the recent spate of weather disasters is that consumers may become more aware of the difficulties faced by farmers and ranchers in their communities. Less likely is that mainstream news outlets will devote more coverage to the risks inherent in agriculture. To be sure, such news angles may not be as intriguing or entertaining as Hollywood gossip or the latest political scandal, but they would certainly help create a better understanding of the challenges faced by farmers and ranchers.

(John Hart is director of news services for the American Farm Bureau Federation.)