By ROXANA HEGEMAN
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) â¿¿ Years of drought are reshaping the U.S. beef industry with feedlots and a major meatpacking plant closing because there are too few cattle left in the United States to support them.
Some feedlots in the nation's major cattle-producing states have already been dismantled, and others are sitting empty. Operators say they don't expect a recovery anytime soon, with high feed prices, much of the country still in drought and a long time needed to rebuild herds.
The closures are the latest ripple in the shockwave the drought sent through rural communities. Most cattle in the U.S. are sent to feedlots for final fattening before slaughter. The dwindling number of animals also is hurting meatpackers, with their much larger workforces. For consumers, the impact will be felt in grocery and restaurant bills as a smaller meat supply means higher prices.
Owner Bob Podzemny has been taking apart the 32,000-head Union County Feed Yard near Clayton, N.M. It closed in 2009 when a bank shut off its operating capital in the midst of the financial crisis, and Podzemny said he doesn't see reopening after struggling through Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
"There just are not that many cattle in this part of the country no more, and it is not profitable to bring them in and feed them, so it is shut down," Podzemny said.
He's now feeding a few cattle in another feedlot, buying them at about 450 pounds and growing them to 800 to 850 pounds. He then sells them to others who bring them to the typical 1,200- to 1,300-pound slaughter weight.
"It is making a little money now on just growing feeders and selling them as feeders rather than finishing them all the way out," Podzemny said. "We do what we got to do to survive, you know."