Mexico Drought Chokes Cattle, Crops


The following article is from the Wall Street Journal:

by Jean Guerrero

FRAILE, Mexico—The worst drought on record in various parts of Mexico has destroyed millions of acres of cropland and left millions of livestock without food, leading to fears about potential food shortages at a time when U.S. states like Texas are also suffering unusually dry weather.

More than half of the national territory has fallen prey to the drought, with dried-up streams in northern states like Coahuila turning into cattle graves and some towns lying abandoned as people flee the drought. More than 3.7 million acres of agriculture have been lost, an area larger than Connecticut.

“I’ve never seen a drought so intense,” said Sergio Ruiz, a livestock producer in Coahuila who has spent most of the year dragging his cattle’s carcasses into graves. He has lost 70 head of cattle and is considering moving to nearby Saltillo.

The dry weather is expected to intensify in coming months. A majority of Mexican states are expected to get between half of the usual rainfall and none at all in February and March, according to Mexico’s Agriculture Ministry.

Citing the drought, the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday cut its forecast for Mexican corn production for the 2011-12 crop year to 18.4 million tons from 20.5 million tons.

Coahuila, which borders Texas, has been especially hard hit. Even cacti in the state have withered. Thousands of corn fields and pasture lie desolate. The state, which is the country’s largest producer of sorghum feed, has had to import the product from other states for the first time.

“The intensity of this drought surpasses the ability of government resources to address it,” said Coahuila’s deputy minister of rural development, Reginaldo de Luna Villarreal.

So far, officials say no people have died in the state from the drought, but some towns are running out of drinking water.

Some small towns near this ranching hub, including one called Buñuelos and another called India, have turned into ghost towns, their schools and houses padlocked and their windows boarded up. Starving cattle roam near the highway munching on bags of chips and other trash thrown from cars.

“If there were grass, they would never eat that stuff,” said Jesús Parra, a livestock producer who said his costs of production have nearly doubled due to the rising price of feed. “Cattle need to consume at least 3{962fe9be9a8a5c386944bfa41f48d98b010325707b70b1fa6182bcabd27c5d7f} of their weight daily,” he said. Tearing some yellow stubble from the earth, Mr. Parra added, “There’s no way a cow is going to get 3{962fe9be9a8a5c386944bfa41f48d98b010325707b70b1fa6182bcabd27c5d7f} of its weight out of this.”

So far, 60,000 head of livestock have been reported dead, though many producers don’t register their losses. Mr. Villarreal, the state official, lost between 20 and 25 cows, but didn’t report it. “I am sure that in Coahuila, [the losses] are much greater than what we’re reporting,” he said.

Mexico is the main supplier of cattle to the U.S., which imported more than 1.23 million head of cattle from Mexico last year, according to the USDA, as well as a record 142 million pounds of beef and veal in the first 11 months of the year.

In the past year, prices for sorghum used as feed have doubled. Increased grain costs are exacerbating the problem for livestock producers who can no longer afford feed and are rushing to slaughter their animals before they die. The resulting glut of meat has slightly depressed prices, though they are still higher than a year earlier because of the livestock losses.

Even though the drought is expected to continue, Mexican officials say the drought’s worst effects on agriculture are expected to have peaked thanks to rising corn output in the southern part of Mexico.

“I don’t think the drought’s continuation will cause agricultural production to plummet,” said Mexico’s Agriculture Minister Francisco Mayorga.

President Felipe Calderón has authorized the use of some $2.5 billion to mitigate the drought’s effects with measures like improved water infrastructure and the delivery of drinking water.

Coahuila and other states received their first rainfall in months this week, but producers say it wasn’t enough. “All it was good for was getting rid of some of the dust,” said Marsial Garcia Rangel, a goat producer who lost 60 animals to the drought.

Some water reservoirs that had dried up in Coahuila now contain water, but dust that had accumulated has turned into deep, deadly mud rimming the lakes. Starving cattle that approached for a drink lie dead, having sunken in the mud, too weak to escape. “If God doesn’t send us water this year, the livestock sector is going to end here,” said Mr. Garcia Rangel.

—Juan Montes in Mexico City contributed to this article.


Source:  Wall Street Journal

Posted by Haylie Shipp


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