Hog-Wild Beef Prices Belie Ranchers’ Livestock Losses

A Hampshire pig  in Winchester, Kentucky.

Photograph by Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

A Hampshire pig in Winchester, Kentucky.

The life and death of livestock gets congressional attention this week as a House  subcommittee looks at an industry that has seen its ups (in prices) and downs (in millions of lost animals).

One of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s top priorities after Congress passed a farm bill in February was to get disaster aid — which was stalled along with the bill — to ranchers hit by losses caused by anything ranging from a flash blizzard last October that killed at least 20,000 animals to drought on the southern Plains. Sign-ups started April 15.

Difficult weather continues to affect cattle herds, which the USDA says are at their smallest since 1951.

Pigs have it worse.

Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea is now in at least 29 states, with the federal government calling for increased tracking of animals and feed to check the spread as entire herds are being lost to the incurable disease. Even so, federal money for farmers beyond what the farm bill provides isn’t likely, Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said in a Bloomberg Government interview.

Herd hardships have created winners and losers.

If you’re a producer who can bring home the bacon — or the steaks — the turmoil has meant profits: Hog futures traded in Chicago are up by almost half so far this year, and cattle is at a record. If you’re a farmer whose herd is being wiped out by dry weather or disease, federal aid may be hard to come by.

And if you’re a consumer, watch out: Food inflation is already out pacing price increases elsewhere, with no relief in sight.

The House Agriculture Committee’s subcommittee on livestock, rural development and credit will gavel to order on April 30 at 10 a.m. It will be the first official discussion among aggies in Congress on the issue. It likely won’t be the last.

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