Cows must be fed year round, and when it gets hot they face more stress and need more water. So when pastureland dries up or feed gets prohibitively expensive, many feel like they have no choice. Peel described
"If you run out of all those resources, you have no alternative but to sell those animals," Peel said.
From Washington: The military aims to get its meat now, while it's (relatively) cheap
In mid-August, the U.S. Defense Department announced President Barack Obama had directed the agency to look into buying more beef, pork and lamb, and sooner rather than later. The rationale? Such mass purchases of meat could "provide some relief" to those who raise and sell livestock during a devastating drought, and also because it would be more cost-effective for the government to buy more meat now before prices likely spiral even higher.
While the drought's full effect on food prices, especially for packaged and processed items, won't be felt for 10 to 12 months, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates beef, pork, poultry and dairy prices should rise "within two months." The increase for these items should extend through the end of this year and into 2013, even if "herd culling" increases the meat supply and leads to lower prices in the short-term.
The Defense Department is no ordinary shopper, when it comes to meat or most anything else. It buys massive quantities of food for troops, staffers and civilian employees. Each year, in fact, the military purchases about 94 million pounds of beef, 64 million pounds of pork and 500,000 pounds of lamb.
Given its buying power, stepping up what it buys now could provide a short-term boost for this sector of the agriculture industry, no doubt. But a few months from now -- when times could be tougher, even as prices are higher -- ranchers and others could be looking for more help given that one of their biggest buyers is already well-stocked.
Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana: Residents get a taste of salty tap water, compliments of the drought
When people tasted their tap water in Plaquemines Parish in early August, they got a salty surprise -- compliments of the Mississippi River.
With river levels low due to the drought, the southern tip of the Mississippi has been awash in saline from the Gulf of Mexico. And that crept into the tap water in the parish south of New Orleans.
Guy Laigast, director of the parish's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, insisted in mid-August, "The water's perfectly safe to drink. It's just got the elevated salt."
But for those on low-salt diets, drinking the water could cause big health problems -- hence a warning.
After the mighty Mississippi near its all-time low, the salty water crept in as a wedge, Laigast said. Because salty water is denser than fresh, it tends to collect at lower depths, he added. And pipes that pull drinking water from the river tend to draw from those same depths.
Sodium levels in the parish's drinking water ranged from 60 mg/L to 200 mg/L, far exceeding the EPA recommendation of no more than 20 mg/L for people on very low sodium diets.
What happened a few weeks later, though, shows that conditions can change, and fast, in southern Louisiana. Plaquemines Parish was among the areas hardest hit by what was once Hurricane Isaac, with scores of homes flooded by a powerful, expansive storm surge.
Nationwide and up above: American Farm Bureau asks people to turn to God to end drought
Farming practices has come a long way over the past several decades, especially since much of Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska was devastated by a decade-long drought in the 1930s' Dust Bowl era. Soil preservation, irrigation and other developments make people who work the land better able to adapt and grow what Americans' eat.
But one thing hasn't changed, in the opinions of many: A higher authority is still in charge of the weather.
Desperate for rain and a respite from extreme heat, the American Farm Bureau called on people nationwide to join them Aug. 23 in a day of prayer. The request pointed to the need to support all those affected by the drought whether their crops withered away, their livestock were in desperate need of clean water, or their home regions were struck by prairie fires.
Everyone involved in agriculture has been affected, the bureau said in a blog post, as has every consumer.