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Southwest Fires Hurting Beef Industry

By admin | August 11, 2011

Photo: Colin Shackelford

By: Dylan Rodgers

A few months ago in Albuquerque, NM the skies were dark, the air was thick and black with the only weather forecast saying, “Smoke”.  The fires in Arizona were emitting such massive quantities of smoke that New Mexicans were blanketed by dark, ashy fog that reduced their range of vision to a few blocks in every direction.  With every gust of the blistering winds whipping through the canyons and plains, the fires had quickly grown out of control.  To put into perspective, in April, Texas burned from border to border from the North to the South.  Since January, wild fires have been crawling through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma; and with more bursting up in New Mexico four days ago, I am worried about when the end will come.

Being a native New Mexican, I know, first hand, about the problems of drought.  My home town of Hobbs, NM hasn’t gotten any rain since last August and is going through the third driest year in recorded state history.  To make conditions worse, the lack of rain has made the massive pine forests and mesquite brush explosively flammable.  The fires have consumed thousands of acres of land including houses, forests, ranches, and everything else in their paths.  Such desperate conditions put major strain on the wallets of thousands of people already hurting from economic woes.  One group in particular has been the southwest ranchers.

Due to the drought and the struggling economic market, ranchers have already been liquidating their beef cow herds over the last few years just to keep their businesses afloat.  According to the Southwest Farm Press, Oklahoma auctions in the past three weeks have shown a “205 percent increase in cow and bull sales compared to the same period one year ago.”  Once the fires broke out, ranchers’ wallets took another major hit.  Miles and miles of fencing burned up along with all the natural feed grasses, with the fencing alone costing up to $10,000 per mile and the cattle feed scarcity and prices rising.

The cost of keeping a beef industry running is pushing the market price of beef through the roof.  And with such hard economic times, it’s pushing consumers to find cheaper alternatives like chicken and pork.  With the market price of beef going up, yet another hole drilled into the wallets of ranchers.  It may be some time before the market rights itself.

Despite all the hardship, people in the Southwest are a tough bunch.  I can attest to that.  We can handle living in consistent 100 degree temperatures while simultaneously eating spicy foods.  We masochistically take a refreshing dessert like ice cream, add green chile to it, and continue to smile.  Although the fires have destroyed so much, the people have banded together to help rebuild what was lost.  Just as fire begets fertility, loss begets strength.

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