Walter Schweitzer breeds and raises Black Angus beef cattle on his ranch in central Montana. And he grows hay to feed his cows and sell to other ranchers.

“I generally sell about 1,000 ton of hay a year and produce all my own feed for our cattle,” he says.

But in 2021, a severe drought dramatically reduced both the quantity and quality of his hay crop.

“Because of the drought, we didn’t sell any hay and barely had enough hay to get our own cattle through the winter,” he says.

This spring, drought conditions continued, and he was worried he would not have enough hay and grass to feed his cattle later in the season. So he sold off more than 150 head earlier than he ordinarily would have, which cut into profits.

The current drought is extreme. But as the climate warms, summers in Montana are also expected to get hotter and drier on average.

Schweitzer says the changing climate adds uncertainty to an already stressful sector with thin profit margins.

And he says that although global warming will affect lots of industries, few are as vulnerable to its impacts as agriculture.

“We’re the boots on the ground,” he says. “Our day-to-day lives depend on our climate.”

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media