Image via Shutterstock

As a crippling drought continues to sweep the west, Northern Nevada’s ranchers are being forced into tough financial decisions: sell their herds or risk bankruptcy. Farmers and ranchers in the region depend on native grasses and alfalfa to feed their cattle, but the water that once flowed freely from the Sierra Nevada snowpack has been scarce. In addition to the western drought, extreme weather has spelled catastrophe for the supply of cattle across the nation and driven beef prices to historic highs.

historic drought, california drought, nevada drought, nevada ranchers, northern nevada, sierra nevada mountains, sierra nevada snowpack, cattle ranchers, nevada ranchers, beef prices, joe glauber, alfalfa, hay, cattle herdsImage via NASA

Though northern Nevada’s ranchers have fended off dry spells before, the severe drought is entering its third year, an unprecedented phenomenon in recorded history. Though experts expect ranchers will be forced to sell their cattle, downsizing isn’t an easy decision. Many ranchers spend decades building up their herd and their numbers directly affect their livelihood and their ability to employ others. The drought, however, could easily halve their herds.

Related: California Drought Grows More Severe as Winter Progresses

Other ranchers across the country will also keep a close eye on Northern Nevada, one of the nation’s most important hay-growing areas. The drought that swept Texas and the southern plains as well as the blizzard that slammed into the Dakotas last fall further tightened the supply of feed and cattle. According to Joe Glauber, chief economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, however, the high price of feed has also exacerbated by a tight market and intense price competitions. One thing, however, is certain: the price of beef will become even more expensive, though no one can predict by how much.


Related: California Farmers Won’t Get Water From the State This Year