Texas Ranchers Welcome Rain After Historic Drought
Author: Ed Stoddard
DALLAS - Autumn rains have soaked scorched parts of Texas, heralding the end of the worst drought on record in at least nine counties and bringing relief to the state's withered cattle industry.
The rains have come too late for some growers of cotton and other crops. Drought-related losses for 2009 may exceed $4 billion in Texas, whose $21 billion in 2007 farm sales made it second to California in U.S. agricultural production.
"We have to wait until all the data is in for the year before we can make an estimate, but I would expect the losses to top $4 billion," said David Anderson, a professor at Texas AgriLife Extension, linked to Texas A&M University.
Texas AgriLife in July estimated Texas agriculture had lost $3.6 billion since November 2008. Almost a $1 billion of those losses were in livestock with the remainder in crops.
The area of south and central Texas that has been classified as under exceptional or extreme drought conditions has shrunk dramatically, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor here
Other parts of this region are in less severe drought or dry conditions while most of Texas is not regarded as dry and the outlook is for a wet winter because of the El Nino weather pattern.
"Texas has made dramatic drought improvement as compared to the peak of the drought in mid to late August," said Victor Murphy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's southern region headquarters in Fort Worth.
"This is due to the developing El Nino which is now categorized as being moderate ... It is expected to remain in place through the springtime and continue to bring Texas stronger chances for above normal precipitation through the spring," he said.
El Nino, an abnormal warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, can wreak havoc on weather patterns across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.
Murphy said "only 0.5 percent of the state is currently in the worst drought category (exceptional), versus 9.5 percent three months ago."
RAINS HELP PARCHED PASTURES
The rains have slaked the thirst of the lands grazed by the Texas beef cattle herd -- America's biggest. Life has renewed in parched pastures and some late hay has been reportedly grown, cutting its price.
"From about $80 for a 1,200 pound (545 kgs) roll of hay delivered the price is now $55 to $60 in south and central Texas," said Dave Scott, president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.
Scott said cattle were still be taken to market by hard-hit farmers and he expected the Texas herd to be "off considerably" when an annual census is taken of the entire U.S. herd in January. He said he also expected a slow recovery as many farmers lack the cash to immediately beef up their herds.
By some estimates the most-drought-stricken area of the state was home to two million beef cows, 40 percent of the Texas herd and 6 percent of the U.S. total.
The rain has been too late for some farmers in Kleberg County Texas which AgriLife said months ago had already lost all of its cotton crop.
(Editing by David Gregorio)