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TUSCARAWAS COUNTY -- Extremely dry conditions mean there's not enough water to go around.

Beef production and other agriculture is the biggest business in Tuscarawas County, accounting for more than $90 million in gross receipts each year.

But this year, there's a precious part of their money-making recipe missing: water.

"I see springs and creeks drying up that never dried up before," said Jerry Lahmers.

In the 67 years he's spent on his family cattle farm, Jerry Lahmers doesn't remember drought getting this bad.
"This is the worst for this immediate area, this township," he said, of the Buckhorn Valley in Tuscarawas County.

Extremely dry conditions mean there's not enough water to go around.

"The majority of our food comes from a combination of soil, water and sun. And if we don't have one or the other, and we don't have the water right now, it can be an issue," said Lahmers.

Grass is getting thin, and they've produced only a 1/3 as much hay as normal. It was leaving his livestock hungry, so they've started feeding them winter grain.

"Normally we don't start feeding 'til first of December, early January. We'll be feeding now until next April probably," he said.
In a typical year, this watering trough would fill itself with natural spring water, but this year Lahmers has to truck 600 gallons of water in each day.

"We'll be feeling the effects of at this time next year," he said. "Our concern is not damaging the crops permanently, especially the pastures. They are getting so dry, and the cows keep eating on them, it will actually destroy the plant and you won't have any plant there come next year."

What they need is simple: "Rain and rain again. We still got a little summer left and that would make a tremendous difference for farmers like me that depend on grass and pasture."

The Ohio State University Extension Office in Tuscarawas County organized a meeting of the minds Thursday, along with the county cattle association.

Without rain, beef producers and dairy farmers will need to consider alternative feed sources, even how to maximize what feed they do have for the cattle's nutrition while keeping additional costs at a minimum.

"If we get some rain here in the near future, yes, it will make a difference," said Extension Educator Chris Zoller. "Especially for the pastures any new seedings that were made this fall of alfalfa, that will help them to grow and get started so they can survive through the winter. But we'll probably see some long term impacts."

And even if you don't own a farm, you're likely to notice them, too.

"We're not a bank. We've got to sell at profit," said Lahmers. "We can absorb losses for a year or two, and I don't think anybody's going to get rich off of this summer. Eventually there is going to be less beef, a lot less beef."

The laws of supply and demand apply.

"We'll see an increase in retail food prices, but it's important to remember, that's not something that the farmer is able to control," said Zoller.

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