East TN cattle farmers feeling impact of drought-like conditions

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Several farmers filled the Knoxville Livestock Auction room Wednesday afternoon, but many didn’t buy cattle.

One of the reasons: The dry weather.

“If it wasn’t so dry, we’d probably be more interested in buying some, but with the drought conditions we’re probably gonna hold off right now,” Bill Loy, a cattle farmer from New Market, said.

Loy and his family have been raising cattle for more than 40 years.

He said he hadn’t seen similar dry conditions as it is now since 2009.

“It’s a long time until the next spring so we’re not sure if we’ll have adequate pasture and hay to feed all the cattle that we do have on hand to begin with,” Loy said.

He’s been lucky so far this season, not having to dip too much into the winter hay reserve.

If East Tennessee doesn’t receive much more rain, then he won’t be so lucky anymore.

“When the grass gets eat off close then, they don’t have any choice but eat the hay so, it’s going to take more if it does stay dry,” Loy said.

With perfect farming weather, Loy said he doesn’t have to use hay until late October or November, sometimes not until December.

Jason Bailey, manager at the Knoxville Livestock Auction, said fall grass typically regrows this time of year, but even weeds aren’t growing.

“Unless we’ll get some rain real soon, it’s going to be too late for the pasture to recover. So we’re keeping our fingers crossed that maybe we’ll get some more rain and we’ll get some fall grass growing. But yeah, it’s becoming really, really a big problem,” Bailey said.

He said farmers will have an even harder time closer to winter if the weather stays dry.

Most farmers don’t budget for extra hay, and pay the consequences later.

“With no pasture and short supply of hay, when everybody originally thought they may have had plenty of hay and plenty of pasture. So, it really is starting to get critical,” Bailey said.

Bailey also crops hay. He said that, like others, he’s only been able to make two cuts when normally he would be cutting a third crop around this time.

He said the drought will also affect the auctions.

“It’s just a trickle-down effect. All the way from drought to the seller to the buyer. It really makes it tough on everybody,” Bailey said.

Bailey said whenever pastures are dry and there’s a shortage of hay, farmers are forced to make one of two decisions: Buy hay at a higher price or sell cattle to cut the herd size down for winter.

He said selling the herd to downsize because of dry weather will also put pressure on the cattle market.

“It’s a supply and demand situation. You got a large supply of cattle on the market, and low demand,” Bailey explained.

The price of cattle will go down, but farmers are also less willing to buy.

Loy said the drought-like conditions could impact water supply as well.

He said his cattle drink from ponds or creeks on his farm. Currently, the water levels are low, but not affecting the supply.

If the ponds and creeks continue to dry up and it doesn’t rain, then Loy might have to buy water to replenish the supply.

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