After year of rain, Texas drought tough on farmers|
By Elizabeth White, Associated Press Writer
LA PRYOR, Texas — Hal Jessee looks at a shovelful of dirt and
assesses it as only a lifelong farmer can.
"It's not looking good," says Jessee, 83, who farms 400 acres about
100 miles southwest of San Antonio. "If you go down, you get dry dirt.
... It should be wet all the way down."
With his land consumed by drought, Jessee probably isn't going to
plant milo on three-quarters of his farm acreage this year. As a dry
land farmer, he relies on rainfall to keep the ground moist enough to
support his crops.
Jessee said the .7 inches of rain he got earlier this month was the
first measurable moisture in six months. His land is visibly dry and
dust devils spring up with the wind.
For farmers in a large swath of land west and south of San Antonio,
the downpours of last summer that in some cases threatened to ruin
crops have all but disappeared, leaving them to make hard decisions
about whether to plant and hope for rain or cut their losses now.
Last July, the state was declared drought-free for the first time
in at least a decade. No more.
"It was so wet, then when it quit, it quit," Jessee said.
Gene Corrigan, who lives not more than a few miles up the road from
Jessee, got a full inch of rain earlier this month. He's taking the
gamble and planting at least 200 acres of milo — out of 600
acres he farms.
"You just never know. It's just like going to Las Vegas," Corrigan
said. "If we don't get a shower, it might ruin it."
Except for east Texas, the state ranges from "abnormally dry" to
some level of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Much of Zavala County, where Jessee and Corrigan live, is in an
extreme drought — the second-worst category. All or pieces of 10
other nearby counties, including the one home to the border city of
Eagle Pass and those referred to as Texas' "wintergarden" region, are
also reporting extreme drought.
"In this case it was weird because 2007 started out great as far as
rainfall. We were on pace to have the wettest year in Texas on record
for the state as a whole" until rainfall dropped off around September,
said Texas State Climatologist and Texas A&M University professor
John Nielsen-Gammon. "If it were evenly distributed through the year
we'd be fine but it wasn't. Unfortunately, Texas weather has this
nasty habit of alternating between too much rain and too little rain."
The state averaged about 37 inches of rain for 2007, nearly 10
inches above normal, said Victor Murphy, of the National Weather
Service Southern Region Headquarters. It was the seventh wettest year
on record going back to 1895.
Planting for crops such as corn, cotton and grain sorghum, or milo,
is usually begins about now in the area that is currently driest, said
Travis Miller, an AgriLife Extension specialist at A&M. Planting can
be put off for few weeks in hopes of rain, Miller said, but not
"What they'll do is say, 'I'm not going to plant corn, I'll plant
(grain) sorghum. Well, I'll grow cotton,"' Miller said. "It just goes
downhill from there."
Jessee plans to plant on 100 acres of irrigated land. Other growers
who have irrigation systems may not skip the planting season entirely,
but that creates another problem.
natural source of water, growers will run irrigation systems and pumps
overtime, a move that will increase their energy costs and eventually
draw down reservoirs replenished by last year's rain.
"Up to now it's taken twice as much irrigation water to grow crops,
" said Ed Ritchie, who farms in several drought-stricken areas. "It's
just been extremely dry, very unusual strong winds. It sucks the
moisture right out of the ground."
The wind, Nielsen-Gammon said, can be blamed on La Nina, which
creates dry, warm winters and causes strong, drying winds from the
southwest and west.
And the drought is not just hurting crops. Livestock is also
Joe Hargrove, president of the Southwest Livestock Exchange in
Uvalde, said some cows are already coming in weak and underweight
from the lack of green grazing grass, which is essential for weight
gain. If conditions hold, he expects an even bigger sell-off in the
next 60 to 90 days.
Hargrove said some ranchers are selling cattle now, fearing that
the drought will be even worse later on.
"They are probably from country that maybe has been drier than
usual," he said.
Miller and Bryan Black, a spokesman for the Texas Department of
Agriculture, said it's too early to estimate economic impact on
growers, ranchers and consumers.
The drought also is creating wildfire dangers across the state.
According to A&M's Texas Forest Service, more than 160 counties have
burn bans. Some areas have been under National Weather Service red
flag warnings, meaning conditions are ripe for difficult-to-control
While a couple of good rainfalls could get Texas back on track for
a normal year, Nielsen-Gammon said the outlook doesn't offer much
"At least for the foreseeable future — the next couple of
months — we still have La Nina, so continued dry conditions are
likely," he said.
Original article: USA Today
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