After getting pummeled by drought and low cattle prices, many ranchers are across the Midwest are eager to grow their herds. As they do, grass is turning into a hot commodity.
The national beef herd is down to the size it was in 1951. Shoppers know that beef is more expensive, which has people switching to chicken and pork. To raise more cattle and perhaps bring down meat prices, ranchers need more pasture. The trouble for many ranchers is grass has grown expensive.
Mike Lee steers his plane over the Missouri-Arkansas state line, checking out a checkerboard of green and brown fields of rice, cotton, corn and soybeans. Lee is the owner of Earlâs Flying Service, a crop dusting business in Steele, Mo., and heâs scouting some farm fields that his pilots will treat later in the day.
Grant Curtis remembers the day he went shopping for his first tractor.
âIt was an eye opening experience,â he said. âWalking into a dealership, getting the prices, walking back to the bank and pleading my case. Saying, âI want to get back to the farm, but I need a way to do that.ââ
Curtis, in his early twenties at the time and without farmland of his own, joked that the only thing he offered as collateral was sweat. But grain farming is a seriously expensive business.