Drought of 2012: What you need to know

Published: Thursday, Aug. 16 2012 8:40 p.m. MDT

The real impacts, Hilton and other officials warned, will be felt in the next year or so.

"The way things are looking right now, prices will go up," Hilton said. "Prices will go up on beef next year, and corn and soybeans are already up."

See 5 ways the drought may hit your wallet at the grocery store

Those feed staples for livestock, such as cattle and hogs, and for chickens will be in short supply or expensively priced — and rangeland, which is the cheapest alternative for the livestock, is practically wiped out because of the drought.

Utah Farm Bureau President Leland Hogan said the 2012 drought is wreaking havoc with the production cycle of farms and ranches all over the country.

Calves that are normally weaned in the fall are being weaned now to put less stress on their mothers and because of the lack of pastureland. Those calves in turn will have to live off hay and mature in feed lots — and that costs a lot more money.

"The drought is interrupting the whole cycle of marketing for everyone," Hogan said. "Everything has become disrupted."

While the USDA has figures that show only 14 percent of a food's retail price is linked to the commodity itself, such as beef or pork, and 86 percent comes from packaging, processing or transportation/energy costs, Hogan said everything — especially the movement of markets — has been upended due to drought.

See 5 ways water shortages may impact commerce

"As people try to cope with this, it will take more transportation, more time involved in actually bringing the animals to market," he said.

If it is more expensive to feed the animals before they are brought to slaughter, it will be more expensive at the checkout stand.

How is the drought impacting Utah water supplies?

Again, it depends on who you ask. Households, ranchers and farmers who are using reservoir-stored water are doing OK, because reservoir storage is on average still at 71 percent across the state.

But those reservoirs and lakes are dropping fast. Bear Lake, which rose 11 feet in that record-setting wet year of 2011, has come down 4 feet already this year, according to Carly Burton, executive director of the Utah Water Users Association. Lake Powell, he added, has dropped about 35 feet.

See 5 ways to conserve water in your home

"All that huge recovery we made last year is going down the drain, so to speak," Burton said.

Water users out there in scattered parts of the state depending on creeks to water fields are "hurting big time," he said. "They are literally up the creek."

The Utah Farm Bureau adds that some members who take 12 to 14 turns a season at the irrigation canal to get their water have had those turns reduced to as few as four.

For many, that means their growing season that normally would extend to late September or early October is done. In some areas, that have left a 10 percent yield on crops.

Todd Adams, assistant director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, said it's been so dry and hot this year that it is taking twice the amount of water — or 200 percent — to keep turf grass healthy as it did last year.

The good news, Adams said, is that municipal and industrial water use is up only 32 percent for the state from last year.

"We're doing quite well," he said. "With that said, we can do better. What we save this year, we can carry over next year. And we don't know what kind of winter we are going to have."

Are there lessons to be learned from the drought?

Several.

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