U.S. Water News Online
LUBBOCK, Texas -- Rancher John Welch sees barren
pastureland everywhere these days, forcing him to consider his least
"We're going to have to start to sell cows if we don't get some
rain," said Welch, who manages up to 10,000 head of cattle on Spade
Ranches across West Texas.
"That's the factory," he said, referring to his calf-producing
mother cows. "You hate to sell the factory."
Texans are about to bid farewell to a dry, hot year that had the
nation's No. 2 agriculture state reeling from the worst single-year
losses for crops and livestock. The drought, now in about its 20th
month, also sparked deadly wildfires and dropped lake levels to their
lowest point for this time of year since 1978.
As much as 20 percent of the state remains in exceptional drought
and a similar percentage is enduring extreme drought, Texas
Cooperative Extension drought specialist Travis Miller said.
The long-range forecast through April could improve conditions. A
weak to moderate El Nino weather pattern shows increased chances for
above normal rainfall statewide.
The first 11 months of 2006 rank as the 31st driest
January-through-November stretch since 1895. Average rainfall for
that period was 23 inches, down from the normal of 26.02 inches, the
National Weather Service said. Compounding the lack of rainfall is a
statewide average temperature of 68.9 degrees, the second warmest
January through November on record.
"You put those together and it's not good," NWS meteorologist
Victor Murphy said.
Those conditions have also taken a toll on Texas' lakes.
Statewide, levels fell 1 percent from October to November and are
down 7 percent from a year ago, according to the latest Texas Water
Development Board report.
The drought cost the state -- the nation's leading producer of
cotton and cattle -- $2.5 billion in lost crops and $1.6 billion in
The cotton crop, coming off a record 8.5-million-bale harvest in
2005, was projected to be down 32 percent for 2006. Most of the drop
resulted from 2.2 million acres of dryland cotton that never grew.
About three-fourths of the state's hay crop didn't make it,
forcing cattle ranchers to pay more for what remained or pay higher
prices for hay trucked in from out of state.
In addition, more than 21,000 fires burned about 2 million acres
in Texas from January through early November, according to the Texas
Forest Service. More than half of that acreage was in the Panhandle,
where 12 people died and ranchers lost 5,000 miles of fence and 5,000
cattle in March wildfires.
Texas sent more cattle to auction in the late spring and summer
than in 2005 because of the drought, Texas Department of Agriculture
spokeswoman Beverly Boyd said. Lack of forage and hay prompted
producers to cull their herds to cut losses.
"It's very difficult to feed out of a drought," Texas and
Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association president C.R. "Dick" Sherron
said. "A lot of old timers will tell you it's impossible."
In September, about 24,000 Texas producers in 216 drought-stressed
counties became eligible for $16.1 million from the federal Livestock
Assistance Grant Program.
"It's truly a tough situation for a large number of our ag
producers," Miller said. "There are people who are going to lose
their businesses if they don't get some kind of relief."
Part of that relief could come in the form of more federal
disaster assistance. The U.S. House and the Senate decided earlier
this month to send an unfinished budget to next year's
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, recently told Texas Farm
Bureau members she had "every confidence" the disaster assistance
"It's been our top legislative priority for some time now," farm
bureau spokesman Gene Hall said. "We hope Congress comes through with
that as soon as possible after the new Congress convenes."
But farmers and ranchers know money won't solve all their
"There's no substitute for a good rain," Hall said. "We're, along
with everyone else, on our knees praying for that."
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