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Drought-busting rain means bull market for cattle producers

C.J. Keene

After a few dry years, the states ag producers are finally getting some relief – but there’s still a hole to dig out of.

Visually, the difference in the cattle country landscape is striking year-over-year with far more green grass and full ponds across West River.

It’s in the data too. The latest drought monitor shows the best conditions in three years.

Stuart Schmidt owns the Cross-S Ranch near Keldron in Corson County. He said there’s more than just rain on his mind now.

“You gotta deal with other natural disasters like grasshoppers too," Schmidt said. "Some places have been very well off this year and other places not so well. We live on the Grand River, and it seemed like that was a hot spot for grasshoppers, so our hay production is down although we’ve had really good grass.”

Schmidt said producers are enjoying a friendly cattle market, but that’s being tamped by inflation.

“Right now, we’re seeing some close to record numbers as far as market prices for a lot of the cattle," Schmidt said. "However, there’s close to record prices for beef at the grocery stores. It’s all relative.”

Cattle prices are at a five-year high, well over 60 percent higher than the bottomed-out prices of 2020.

Schmidt said he wants consumers to consider locally produced beef as a more humane alternative to factory-farmed chicken or pork.

"The cattle – they’re privately owned, they’re the property of the cattle ranchers themselves. The property of families." Schmidt said. "They are very well cared for. The ranchers are concerned with their well-being. It’s not a factory product, beef is raised on the open range – most of them.”

An SDSU report found livestock production contributed half of all state ag revenues, though meat processing represented more than double the revenues of cattle production.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture