Texas drought hits farmers

Crop failures, low harvests plague farm and cattle ranchers

BY ZACHARY HOFFMAN | BALTIMORE | September 3, 2009



"The majority of crops this year were over before they were planted because they never came up"

—Jeff Nunley, South Texas Cotton and Grain Association


The summer of 2009 has been one for the record books in South Central Texas, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). More than 200 counties of Texas are feeling effects from a persistent drought that began in 2007, drastically hurting farmers and cattle ranchers.

In the coastal bend of Texas, of 400,000 acres of cotton planted at the beginning of the season, just 50,000 acres were harvested. But where a harvest did occur, the fields only produced about half of its average yield, said Jeff Nunley, executive director of South Texas Cotton and Grain Association.

“The majority of crops this year were over before they were planted because they never came up,” said Nunley. “If we get to this next February and we are as dry as we are now, it’s going to be gloom, doom and disaster.”

More than 20-days of highs exceeding 100-degrees in Del Rio, TX, and 12 days when the temperatures topped the century mark in San Antonio has parched the soil even more.

“Last year San Antonio rainfall was 17.59 inches below normal, combined with this year they are 29 inches below normal, that’s a quite a bit of rain we would need to get out of the drought,” said said forecaster Chris Morris for NWS in San Antonio.

“That’s the thing about droughts, they compound over multiple years,” said Morris. “Just this year we have a lot (of rain) to make up.”

With most of South Central Texas in an excessive drought, the highest classification, and the rest of the area in a severe or extreme drought, forecasters for the NWS are hoping this year’s El Nino will bring increased rainfall during winter months to curb the severity of the drought.

“Big concerns with persistent droughts are associated wildfires,” said the president of San Antonio’s Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (SAVOAD), Harvey H. Howell, who is also active with Presbyterian Disaster Response.

There have already been several wildfires in Texas in the past few months; one rather significant one claimed the lives of a couple in Montague county, along with 91 homes.

Faith-based relief organizations, Texas Baptist Chaplains and Victims Relief Ministries (VRM), worked with the American Red Cross to provide aid to residents in the affected areas.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) also responded with spiritual and emotional care to those also seeking physical assistance, said Howell.

“Together we saw approximately 20 families,” said Rev. Dr. Richard W. Selby of First Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, TX. “One woman with her husband brought pictures and a newspaper to illustrate their entire loss. She immediately opened up and told me her story.”

Howell said there is a potential for sheltering with increased drought severity by using hurricane shelters already set up, but this possibility has not yet needed to be explored.

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst re-issued a proclamation that certified 214 counties in Texas as currently threatened by extreme drought.

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