East Texas Farmers Battered by Dry Spring (Posted By Mike Mecke)

While many Texas ranches and farms enjoy a wet, green spring and other areas are presently flooding, the eastern part of the state suffers from drought.  Drought is always just around the next corner in Texas – something that most urban or city folks fail to recognize.  In some areas, both cities and smaller towns, leaders and developers constantly push for more growth, more thirsty lawns, more water slurping golf courses and never think beyond tomorrow!

Our state was fairly small in population when the terrible “Drought of Record”, running from the late 40′s thru 1957, occurred.  With our huge population and projected doubling by 2060, what would happen if we had another five to seven or eight year severe drought?

It would hit us more quickly and harder.  Just as the recent two year Central Texas drought did.  Keep this in your mind when your town or city starts yelling for more growth – will you have the water for them?  From where – at what environmental, community and economic costs?  Will area irrigators and farmers have to go out of business to provide that water?  Does your community want to trade vital agricultural businesses and families for new subdivisions?  Do you want to depend upon China or Mexico or other countries for our food?

Forecast looks gloomy for fruit, cattle growers because of dry conditions.

By Chad Thomas

TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH

Sunday, June 6, 2010

TYLER — Plumes of dust billowed out from under the wheels of Darren Rozell’s tractor as it rumbled across a stretch of thirsty dirt at his orchard.

Like many agricultural sites throughout East Texas, Rozell’s land just northwest of Tyler has gradually dried out during the past two months, and as much as 60 percent of his fruit crop — which includes peaches, blackberries and plums — could be lost this season because of a lack of moisture.

Already, a significant portion of the Rozell Peach Farm berry crop has been rendered unworthy of sale. The peaches, meanwhile, are smaller than normal, which likely will keep them out of grocery stores from Dallas to Shreveport.

The blame for the crop loss is obvious: a lack of major rainfall from March to May that, consequently, ranked this spring as the sixth driest in recorded history in East Texas, said Bob Peters, a local weather observer.

Since mid-March, some sections of the greater Tyler area have received as little as three-tenths of an inch of rain, a radical departure from the area’s normal springtime precipitation of about 8 inches.

As of last week, 17 counties in East Texas were considered to be in a “moderate drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, an index maintained by the National Drought Mitigation Center.

The most severely affected counties in the state include Cherokee County, where the agriculture industry, from cattle to crops, is hurting.

“I would say across the board as far as vegetable growers and then hay growers, you’re talking hundreds of people, especially in our area in Jacksonville, Rusk, Alto, New Summerfield and Troup,” said Aaron Low, Cherokee County’s agrilife extension agent.

“Just about everybody in the rural areas is in some way affected, whether they have horses or cows, or are just growing a vegetable garden. We’re talking about this thing wiping out entire crops,” he said.

Jay Jones is among the Cherokee County growers already facing a major crop loss barring significant rainfall in coming weeks. Jones has farmed in Alto since 1991, and this is the hardest year he’s seen in terms of rain shortages in more than a decade.

“Of my vegetables and what I have planted now, it could be an 80 or 90 percent loss,” he said. “That’s a hard number. It’s hard to say, but if we’re getting these 100-degree days, that’s what it could be.”

Without grass on their pastures, cattle producers typically rely on their hay reserves to feed their herds. But thanks to last year’s drought in Central and South Texas, the overwhelming majority of East Texas’ hay surplus was sold to desperate cattle ranchers in other parts of the state.

As a result, some East Texas producers may have to put a large number of cattle on the market if the drought persists into the summer. In such a case, the market may be flooded, shorting the producers on prices.

“When people start selling off their herds, you’re going to have an increase in supply and decrease in demand,” Low said. “And that’s another lick for the beef cattle producers. I’ve talked to several people who say if we don’t get some rain, it’s going to start happening.”

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