Cargill plans to close a Texas beef plant, putting 2,000 people out of work, because there's not enough beef. That's no surprise to Kansas ranchers who know there's too few cattle.
"There's a lot of people that just say it's not worth it anymore," said cattleman Daryl Larson. "There's a lot easier ways to make a living."
The drought's left the United States with its smallest cattle herd since the 1950's. That means we'll all be paying higher prices, even if the drought ended today.
Across Kansas cattle pens, like Daryl Larson's, are empty, or nearly so. The biggest reason? The drought. Many had to sell off large portions of their herds last summer because they couldn't afford to buy feed when their pastures dried up.
"It's not just a want, it's a need. We have to be able to make a profit to stay in business," said Larson.
Normally a cattle rancher will keep enough heifers to breed new calves to take to market. But this time they didn't. Which will have an impact on all of us.
"The beef supply will be somewhat lower and prices will probably be higher in the grocery stores," Larson said.
The calves currently in Larson's pens are almost a year old and just about ready to go to market. If he decides to keep any of them for breeding purposes, it would be another two years before their calves were ready to make a profit.
"So yeah, it's not something that's going to happen in the next 90 days, or six months or anything. It's going to take quite awhile," said Larson.
And that two to three year time frame could easily stretch to four or five.
"First and foremost, we need rain," said Larson. "We need wet snow, moisture of some kind, to get the pastures to green up this spring, to put water in the ponds."
There is a way to build herds faster. Cattlemen could buy heifers to jump start their herds. But that costs money, money that would come out of whatever profits the cattle earn at market.
"It's going to take patience," said Larson. "It's going to take money, investment in the industry to get people to want to keep heifers, buy heifers, and increase cow numbers again."
Something Larson is already trying to figure out how to do, if only rain would come. If it doesn't, cattle ranchers could find themselves once again facing the decision this summer to sell off large parts of their herds, increasing the shortage that already exists.