How cattle ranchers in Brazil cope with weather shocks

A prolonged dry season puts more pressure on livestock in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Marin Skidmore, College of ACES, University of Illinois

Agricultural producers around the world have to adapt to changing weather patterns. Much research has focused on mitigation strategies for crop production, but livestock farmers face unique challenges.

A new study from the University of Illinois looks at how ranchers in Brazil are responding to climate change in the Amazon. Previous research shows that the dry season increases to 0.6 days per year. This puts more stress on animals, and ranchers are more likely to sell their livestock, says Marin Skidmore, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the U of I. Her paper is published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

Brazil is the second largest beef producer in the world and the largest exporter. Forty percent of Brazil’s livestock is located in the Amazon region, which is particularly vulnerable to climate change and deforestation.

“In conversations with ranchers, I kept hearing how they had to change their production to cope with the dry season. They are used to a dry season every year, but they noticed it was getting worse,” Skidmore says.

Ranchers talk about “the accordion effect,” she notes. “Every year in the rainy season the animals gain weight, in the dry season they lose weight and then they gain weight again. Of course this takes its toll, but they could have done the dry season as it was. As it got worse, the weight loss became worse and saw animal loss and profit.’

Skidmore visited Brazil as a Fulbright scientist and led focus groups with ranchers to understand their motivations. Back in the US, then at the University of Wisconsin, she had access to a large database of all livestock movements in Brazil, including sales and transportation. She combined nine years of livestock data with climate data, and her results confirmed what the focus groups had indicated.

“I do find evidence of increased sales of animals in preparation for an extremely dry season. A rancher who would keep his animals in their own pasture during a normal dry season will instead be more likely to sell them if they expect it to happen. dry season will be severe,” she says.

Focus group findings showed that ranchers make decisions about the upcoming dry season by observing rainfall patterns. During the rainy season it rains every day. Then it gets intermittent, and farmers will see how sporadic the rain gets and how early it happens.

Ranchers have several options when anticipating an extended dry season.

“They can sell the animals for slaughter, and then it’s nobody’s responsibility to feed them. But you might have an animal that isn’t at slaughter weight yet,” Skidmore says. “Then you can sell the animal to a confinement operation, where they feed an animal with grain. This disconnects the food source from the current weather; it could be grain grown in the region in the previous season, or grain grown transported from another region.”

Confinement operations kill an animal much faster than an operation in the pasture. For example, the supply of livestock will initially increase, but the following year the supply decreases, leading to supply peaks and troughs.

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Skidmore says her findings also indicate that the region’s grassland-based production is generally prone to drought, as many pastures are affected and quickly become unproductive. Moreover, current production technologies are not equipped for heat stress. The animals are outside in direct sunlight; there is no shade and no water to cool down. Investing in better management practices to improve grazing and address heat stress could thus benefit the region.

The research contributes to understanding how livestock farmers adapt to extreme weather conditions, Skidmore said.

“A lot of the literature on climate change looks at crop producers. But the difference is that animals have life, and this opens up a whole different set of adaptive strategies for ranchers. Ranchers are taking advantage of that, and it can really affect the structure of the supply chain. ”, she concludes.

Skidmore worked on the project with the Connections between Water and Rural Production team led by Katrina Mullan, an associate professor of economics at the University of Montana.

The article, “Outsourcing the Dry Season: Farmers’ Responses to Weather Shocks in the Brazilian Amazon,” is published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

How Brazil ranchers can help reduce carbon emissions

More information:
Marin Elisabeth Skidmore, Outsourcing the dry season: ranchers’ responses to weather shocks in the Brazilian Amazon, American Journal of Agricultural Economics (2022). DOI: 10.1111/ajae.12333

Provided by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Quote: How Brazil ranchers deal with weather shocks (2022, October 7) retrieved October 7, 2022 from

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