JEFFERSON CITY - Ask Missouri farmer John Mason about a solution to the hay shortage on and around his farm in Miller County, and you'll receive an interesting answer.
"Everybody do a rain dance," Mason said. "The ponds are a mud hole, and all the snow is frozen. It's times like this that spirits ain't too high."
Mason runs a 150-head, 600-acre cattle farm in Iberia, Mo., or, as he says, he runs what is left of it. Hay shortages from summer drought and an early winter have had a negative impact on the farm.
"We don't have enough feed here, and when you lose hay, it cuts pretty deep, pretty fast," Mason said.
The Missouri Department of Agriculture recently released a warning to hay producers that a winter shortage is possible. But for Mason, the news is too little, too late.
"I usually feed the cattle 'til mid-February," he said. "Now, for the second year in a row, I've had to sell some before the first of the year."
This year is also the second in a row that Mason has had to break into his winter feed supply early. Whereas most farmers start feeding their cattle on hay in December, Mason says the farmers in Iberia started their hay-feeding during the summer.
"Everybody I know around here started feeding in July," he said. "Looks like we'll be cutting down our cattle out here because we don't have the money to get hay."
In response to hay shortages, the agriculture department has provided a "Missouri Hay Directory" for farmers to contact hay distributors.
Eldon Cole, a livestock specialist in Mt. Vernon, Mo., said there is enough hay in Missouri, the trick is getting it into the right hands.
"It's a supply and demand thing," Cole said. Since December, Cole has seen the price of 800- to 1000-pound bales of hay double in southern Missouri. He said he expects conditions to worsen by March.
Mason said he, too, has seen the price of hay increase. He said he is paying at least one-third more for his alfalfa in addition to a hefty transportation fee to import it to Iberia.
"Little companies can't survive this long," he said. "The cattle wont be nearly as big, and we'll have less money."
Regardless of the cost of market inputs, Columbia consumers should still receive the same amount of beef for their buck, said Rick Rowden, director of marketing at Nowell's.
"There may be some economic fallout, but that has yet to be determined," Rowden said.
Some beef marketers also said they don't see the hay shortage as a prescription for disaster.
"There's no oversupply of hay, but it's not like we're destitute or anything," said John Harrison, part-owner of the Callaway Livestock Center in Callaway County.
"The beef market is stable." he said. "The American people are convinced that it's good for you to eat beef.
"I have no doubt that we'll make it- we always have."