07-24 ratcliff-03

Kimberly Ratcliff, president of “100 Ranchers” works hay to feed her 400 head of cattle.

A nearly nation-wide heatwave, following the country's wettest year on record, has left U.S. farmers wondering if they're ever going to catch a break.

Conversely, ranchers are enjoying a 2 percent growth in cattle production, thanks in part to plentiful grass and hay from this year's torrential rains.

Still, more cattle might not mean higher profits.

“A potential buyer won't want to pay as much for a calf, if he has to pay more for corn, due to the farming shortage,” Bill Hyman, executive director of the Independent Cattleman's Association of Texas, told the Herald-Press Monday. “Plus, if a typical shopper has to pay more for beef at the supermarket, they might just choose another option, like chicken.”

Farming regions, including Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois had to delay planting due to record rainfall that continued through June. With the current heatwave, some farmers could become the first in generations without crops at harvest-time.

Kimberly Ratcliff manages 400 head of cattle on the Caney Creek Ranch. She's president of “100 Ranchers,” an organization of African-American ranchers that promotes agriculture at the local level. She told the Herald-Press it's hard for cattle-buyers to justify paying top-dollar for a calf they can't afford to feed.

“When a rancher sells a 600-pound calf, the buyer sends it to a feed-yard to fatten it up,” Ratcliff said. “If the farmers can't get crops into the ground, getting the oats, barley, and especially the corn necessary to feed a calf gets expensive.”

A Wall Street executive prior to managing her family's ranch, Ratcliff said ranching is an uncertain business with high and low points. Ranchers who keep up on market trends, however, should be able to sustain their business, despite the searing heat.

“The drought back in 2011 was far worse than this,” she said. “We had more than 400 head back then. We ended up having to sell them for pennies on the dollar. It's actually taken our ranch up until this year for the cows' foraging land to recover from that drought.”

Overall, Ratcliff said she's not too worried, even if buyers are a bit more conservative this season.

“You can't predict the price,” she said. “You're always uncertain whether you should wait, or sell now. My opinion is always going to be different than my neighbors, and there will always be highs and lows.

“Following a ten-year plan, however, sustainability, if not profit, shouldn't be a problem.”