Farmers, ranchers feeling effect of drought

March 31, 2011 4:34:58 PM PDT
The lack of rain has plunged most of the state into a severe drought, and farmers and ranchers here in southeast Texas are feeling the pinch.

Some say this drought is the worst they've seen in decades, and if they don't see some substantial rain soon, their livelihoods will be at risk.

While the drought is bad, farmers and ranchers are not frantic yet -- at least not in our backyard. But if we don't get any measurable rain over the next month, they likely will be.

Longtime Fort Bend farmer Alan Stasney admits to some sleepless nights of late.

"You know it's bad when you start taking the Tylenol PMs and then it's really bad when they start not working!" Stasney said.

He insists it hasn't come to that -- yet. He's still hopeful, but is one of so many farmers across the state praying for rain.

"At this point and time, 100 percent is Mother Nature and not my control!" he said then laughed.

It's already damaging his 3,600 acres of crops. The cotton he planted here just five days ago should be sprouting more. Thirsty seeds just can't get enough moisture to do so.

"This seed will not produce a plant," Stasney said.

He tried planting 175 acres of wheat this year, but without rain in the next couple days, he figures it a loss.

The last measurable rainfall in Fort Bend County was on February 9, and that was only three-tenths of an inch. The rain deficit there is five inches below the normal average.

Experts across the state are calling this drought the worst in 44 years. Dusty conditions may significantly cut drop yields.

Wheat is taking a beating. Experts say more than half of wheat fields nationwide are considered already in poor or very poor condition.

Those who can afford to irrigate crops do. But to some that's a luxury.

The outlook for cattle is severe as well. Without the rain, there's little grass for them to eat. Ranchers must supplement, if they can afford to do so.

"If you can't afford to feed them then you get rid of 'em, and you cut your losses and you get out," said Don Brehm with Brehm's Fee Co.

This matters to you because Texas is the biggest U.S. cattle producer and second-largest winter-wheat grower.

Rising demand for each could mean higher grain and food prices at the grocery store.

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