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Texas cattle ranchers adapt to climate change

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Seth Perlman/AP/File

(Read caption) In this file photo, Simmental beef cattle feed on hay in a pasture near Middletown, Ill. In response to worsening drought conditions, many cattle ranchers in Texas are moving their herds north to better conditions.

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Everyone knows that Texas has been hot and dry. Cattlemen are responding to this new news. Given that they expect that this drought will continue, they are seeking out new "verdant" areas to raise their cattle. Investment under uncertainty and rational expectations lives on!

The LA Times reports the key facts in this article. This quote in the article is revealing; "A few months ago, managers of Swenson and the larger spreads called a crisis meeting at Tongue River Ranch, about 95 miles north of here. They agreed to send Braden and the manager of the Four Sixes Ranch to scout northern pastures that had received above-average rainfall, and ended up leasing land in Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana."

Note that this is the logic of Climatopolis playing out in the non-urban sector. The cattlemen are betting that locations within these other six states will be more "cow friendly" in terms of rain and food supplies. So, a lot like portfolio theory from Wall Street, the key idea here is that geographical locations differ with respect to their temperature and rainfall conditions. As long as climate change doesn't have the same impact on every location, then some areas will be "cow friendly" and rational investors have a strong incentive to identify those areas and relocate there. This is the "small ball" optimism of my climate change adaptation work.
Now, I recognize that this transition process isn't costless. The extent of these costs hinges on what is the next best use of the land that the cattlemen are now seeking to lease and how costly it is to ship cattle out of Texas.

Note, the jump in cow "exports" out of Texas towards more "verdant" northern locations. Rational cattle investors are being pro-active rather than being passive victims in the face of climate change.

Lots of folks threw some tough punches at my Climatopolis but take a look at current events. There is no "global carbon policy" deal on the horizon (and that makes me unhappy). We are each on our own to struggle with the new challenge we have collectively created. What happens next? Doom? No, cow migration is the tip of the iceberg of how we will control our own destiny and continue to thrive despite the very real challenges we will face. Necessity is the mother of cow migration (and invention)!


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