NORFOLK, Neb. -- A vicious weather cycle is creating stress and anxiety among Nebraska’s cattle ranching community this winter season.

University of Nebraska extension beef educator Aaron Berger said the severe start to winter weather could not have come at a worse time.

"The scenario we've seen right now in Nebraska is a prescription for what you hope doesn't happen," he said. "We had a droughty summer, so hay production was significantly less...and now we've had a number of winter storms."

To ranchers, hay becomes extremely valuable during winter months and storms. These fibrous foods help cattle generate more heat internally.

Austin Harthoorn of the Nebraska Farm Bureau said that with the supply low and demand high, prices have skyrocketed.

"We're down 35% from where we we're last year," he said. "And prices are through the roof, up 40-50%."

In previous seasons, high grain prices for soy and corn have moved many crop farmers away from growing hay, adding to the shortage.

When farmers struggle to find feed, or pay a premium for it, the effects trickle all the way back to local and nationwide consumers.

"As feed prices go up, that's going to impact the consumer," Berger said. "The farmer has to produce at a profit."

While the shortage is nationwide, Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers have felt its biggest impact due to the ongoing drought. Nebraska has been in a drought state since June 2020.

Now, each winter storm for the remainder of the year will add to the stress level of local ranchers.

"It's going to be a stressful season for folks if we continue to have extended snow and cold," Berger said.