Drought, climate instability in southeast Texas is affecting agriculture, farmers say

Alex Bozarjian Image
Thursday, August 31, 2023
Drought, climate instability is affecting agriculture in Texas
This summer's drought and Texas' climate instability are affecting agriculture as crops die and the soil dries. Here's all Texans should be paying attention.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Record-breaking drought conditions are putting farmers and ranchers out of business.

According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, it's something that's affecting all Texans. Why? Because it means our food supply statewide is taking a hit.

The conditions are leading to the lack of rain, and extreme heat severely impacts productivity.

These conditions are leading to water use restrictions, fire threats, and putting farm workers at risk.

"I mean, it's dead, crispy, toast," Greg Mast, the director of agriculture at Hope Farms, said.

Mast said the farm's pear trees will have to be replaced.

Fortunately, they are among the minority of crops on Hope Farms that seem to be adapting to the drought conditions.

"Things that struggle more would be like carrots or onions-also, leafy greens like collard and kale. So, our main strategy is to try not to grow much of those and focus on the plants that naturally do well," Mast said.

What we are dealing with is climate instability, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture.

The drought is drying up and even cracking the soil in some areas.

ABC13's Travis Herzog said the last time southeast Texas saw widespread rain was the first week of July.

"When you don't get that rain, the grass dies, and we are starting to see the trees take a hit. When we look back at the drought of 2011, we had thousands of trees die in Memorial Park alone, and we are probably going to see something similar if we don't get some rain sometime soon," Herzog said.

Commissioner Sid Miller, with the Texas Department of Agriculture, said the extreme weather is stressing the health of cattle.

Texas is the top beef-producing state in the United States by far.

Due to the conditions, some ranchers and farmers are having to sell their cattle to save money on animal feed and hay.

"We are getting to that point. Last year was a total bust, and this year is going to be a total bust. You can't stand that very many years in a row. It's hard to make your land payments and your mortgage payments," Miller said.

Mast empathizes with farmers in more rural areas.

Operating an urban farm with a well makes it easier to keep crops quenched.

They also use other tactics like shade cloths, creating a cooler environment for arugula and other greens.

"Those leafy greens that I was talking about are looking pretty nice," Mast said.

The bigger picture is far more grim for Texas' agriculture.

The National Integrated Drought Information System estimated in Harris County that nearly 5,000 acres of corn are impacted by the dry conditions, as well as roughly 15,000 cattle.

"For many smaller farms that are in more rural areas, I would imagine it is extremely challenging. The heat and the drought suppress crop yields, and it's just going to make it that much more difficult to be profitable," Mast said.

SEE RELATED: 'Total loss': Farmers hope for better harvest year after one of the worst droughts in Texas

Besides 1986, when there was no rain for 120 days, two Texas farmers say 2022 was one of their worst years. Here's how they are rebounding from last year's horrific drought.