In this photo from Aug. 1, 2012, Todd Eggerling, of Martell, Neb., points to some of his cattle grazing on thin pasture. Due to the summer's record drought and heat his cattle operation is in bad shape. Eggerling would normally graze his 100 head of cattle through September, but the drought has left his pastureland barren. He's begun using hay he had planned to set aside for next year's cattle, and is facing the reality that he will have to sell the cattle for slaughter early at a loss. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
OMAHA, Neb. — It's hard to tell what frustrates Todd Eggerling more — the weather or Congress.
Searing temperatures and drought scorched Eggerling's land in southeast Nebraska, leaving little grass to feed his 100 cattle. Then Congress left for a five-week break without agreeing on aid to help ranchers through one of the worst droughts in the nation's history.
That means it will be September before Eggerling and other ranchers can even hope for disaster aid legislation that includes cash to buy feed until they would normally send their cattle to feedlots or slaughter in the fall or winter. For some, it's already too late. Out of grass and out of cash, they've sold their animals.
For others, time is rapidly running out as they try to hold on. Their decisions will affect the price and supply of meat for months, perhaps years, to come.
"I'd like to see every one of the senators and congressmen go out into one of these widespread, drought-stricken areas and spend a day," said Eggerling, 44, of Martell, Neb. "Walk around and see the effects of what's going on. Look at the local economies and see what's going to happen to them. Then they can go back to Washington with a real perspective and say, 'Hey; we need to do something.'"
Most farmers are having a hard year with drought and unusually warm temperatures in the middle of the country burning up everything from corn to cabbage. But ranchers are in a particularly precarious position because most don't have access to federally subsidized insurance programs that cover crops like corn and soybeans.
Private companies won't insure grazing land because it's too hard to predict losses, and ranchers say pilot programs tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are too expensive and pay out little when there's a loss, Nebraska Farm Service Agency director Dan Steinkruger said.