American Cattle Ranching is Outgunned by Climate Change

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Cattle-ranching, as quintessential to America’s idea of itself as John Wayne and cowboy movies, will likely become a thing of the past as temperatures continue to rise. With the heat index above 120°F across many US states this summer – the kind of incredible temperatures more typically associated with countries like Saudi Arabia – cattle deaths have been on the rise, according to Pew Climate.

Even at just a degree or two in average global temperature rise – early in the decades of predicted climate change – some regions of the USA are experiencing temperature humidity index (THI) values that threaten cattle.

For several days at a time this summer, it was around 90°F in the Northern Plains and Midwest. This is well over the THI of 80°F, at which negative impacts are seen. At a THI of 98°F, cattle can not survive. Iowa lost 4,000 head, and Minnesota and South Dakota lost an additional 2,500 head.

These are just the early days. Climate scientists predict that by the end of this century, current cattle-producing regions could average 75 to 120 days per year where the temperature exceeds 100°F. That will mean the end of the cattle industry.

How bad are things already for American cowboys? Faced with dry pastures, rapidly depleting hay supplies and drought stressed surface water sources, ranchers in Texas are selling off their livestock. The U.S. herd is now at a record low.

The Federal government has stepped up and supplied low interest loans to Texas ranchers and direct payments for farmers whose herd was culled by the heat. Under the Livestock Indemnity Program, cattle lost to extreme weather are reimbursed by the government at 75% of their value.

Climate change is already costing the national treasury, and these are just the early days.

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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