Dec 11, 2013 8:46 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

Drought taking a toll on cattle industry

Drought conditions are costing one of the Central Coast's biggest industries millions of dollars.

A current State of Emergency declaration is in place now, creating programs to help farmers affected by the drought. Without any rain in the forecast, lawmakers are preparing for yet another dry year ahead.

Cattle brings in more than $100 million in revenue to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties every year, but these weather conditions are slicing into a big chunk of that revenue. Now state officials are trying to get ahead of the problem by asking the governor to declare a State of Emergency for 2014.

"It's as tough as I've ever seen it," said cattle rancher Dick Nock.

He owns Nock Trading Company and says the cattle industry is seeing unprecedented losses as drought conditions only continue.

"You get to a point now and we're getting to that point, a lot guys are saying after the first of the year they can't afford to feed their cows anymore," said Nock. "So they have to sell them, so they're out of business."

He says he's seeing fewer and fewer cattle at alarming rates.

"I would say the head count in this county is about 50% of what it would normally be," said Nock.

That means more than $50 million in yearly revenue gone.

The cost of hay and alfalfa has skyrocketed due to drought conditions as well. It is now costing cattle ranchers 30% more than two years ago.

"Right now the current State of Emergency has initiated some programs so we can have some emergency loans," said Jennifer Anderson of the County Farm Service Agency.

She says those state programs provide low interests loans for farmers to offset losses. They also offer insurance helping to mitigate things like hay costs or cattle loss. However, those benefits are set to expire in February of next year, something lawmakers are looking closely at.

"Because the drought has been so severe for 2013, and they're really concerned about it going into 2014, they're probably trying to prepare," said Anderson.

As for Nock, he says there is only one surefire thing to help the cattle industry survive.

"Rain, and lots of it," said Nock

If you're interested in purchasing the insurance made available by the state, you can do so at the County Farm Service Agency office in Templeton off Main Street.

Cattle ranchers say due to the impacts on the livestock industry, if you buy meat at the grocery store, you could see prices go up as much as $2 a pound by the end of next year.



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