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How Animal Agriculture Is Being Impacted By Utah's Drought

While watering lawns less can be done to conserve water during a drought, using less water isn’t always possible in agricultural operations. As water availability dwindles, some farmers are noticing decreases in their agricultural outputs.

Troy Forest is the Director of Grazing Improvement at the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food and said the drought has been negatively impacting animal agriculture in Utah for over a year now.

“Many cow-calf pairs are going for sale right now, which is not the typical season they would be sold in because guys are out of feed and hay costs have gone through the roof," said Forest. "Feeder hay is over $200 a ton, good quality hay is approaching $300 a ton and maybe more and in some instances. So, it's affecting animal agriculture pretty much statewide.”

He said an acre of land that could produce 1000 pounds of forage on a normal year may only produce 200 pounds right now because of the drought, which impacts how many animals can be fed. 

With water levels affecting hay quantities, farmers such as Aysha Maddox of Maddox Family Farm are hoping they are able to grow enough feed to make it through the year.

“Those producers that have to buy hay— it's going to be a lot tougher because hays not going to be produced as much this year with the drought," said Maddox. "We're hoping that we can get all of the hay that we need, and we don't have to buy it."

Maddox said they do think the drought will affect their meat prices but are hoping they can wait as long as possible before it does.

Some farmers have started shipping their cattle to the Midwest where they can be better fed and according to Forest this could have far reaching consequences. 

“These guys, a lot of them spent 100 years breeding the type of livestock that will do well and Utah's dry conditions. And if they sell that, you can't just go to the market and buy those same genetics that are going to do well here," said Forest. "You can't buy that mother's knowledge that she teaches her young heifer calf to be on a landscape and how to survive.”


Kailey Foster is a senior at Utah State University studying Agricultural Communications, Broadcast Journalism, and Political Science while also getting a minor in Agribusiness. She was raised in the dairy industry in Rhode Island where she found her passion for the agriculture industry as a whole. Here at USU, she has held various leadership positions in the Dairy Science Club and the local Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow chapter. She also also served as the 2020 Utah Miss Agriculture and is currently the 2021 Utah Ms. Agriculture. Here at UPR, she works on agriculture news stories and she produces agriculture segments such as USU Extension Highlights, the Green Thumb, and Ag Matters.