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Drought: USDA throws livestock farmers a lifeline. Will it help?

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The money could help buoy pork prices somewhat: “It’s a little relief in the short run,” he says. 

Other industries had much the same reaction. Up to $50 million will go to helping the poultry industry, which John Starkey, president of the US Poultry & Egg Association, says will help struggling producers.

But US poultry farmers produce an average of 50.4 billion pounds of chicken meat annually, which means that the $50 million was “not a lot,” a spokesman for the association says.

Livestock farmers are likely to continue struggling as long as feed costs remain high. Tentinger says the cost of feed for his hogs has risen 30 to 40 percent since the drought began in June.

The price of catfish feed, says Roger Barlow, executive vice president of Catfish Farmers of America, has risen as much as 65 percent. Catfish feed includes corn, soybeans, and other supplements.

Experts in the meat business say the difficult times for livestock farmers are likely to force some farmers out of business, especially smaller farmers, and exacerbate the consolidation that has reduced the number of livestock farmers in recent decades. 

Ron Birkenholz, a spokesman for the Iowa Pork Producers Association, says the drought has been especially hard on newer farmers who often get into farming by raising livestock because it requires little investment in land.

“They don’t have anything else to fall back on,” he says.

The USDA last week said its estimate for the US corn crop this year is the lowest since 1995-1996, when far fewer acres were planted: 123 bushels per acre. Traders on Chicago’s commodities exchange, meanwhile, have sent prices for corn and soybean crops to all-time highs. 

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