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Halloween no match for scary Texas summer

If you’re a kid in Texas and wanted to make a huge haul this Halloween, you dressed up as the weather phenomenon La Niña. Farmers and ranchers were likely to provide whatever treat your heart desired to avoid another frightening drought like the one that gripped the state by the throat this season.

I learned just how unsettling the Lone Star summer was from two Texas cotton producers, who were touring the Mid-South in October as part of the Multi-Commodity Education Program, a Cotton Foundation project funded by Monsanto and John Deere and Company.

Both producers had significant crop losses, but are confident they’ll be ready to go again in 2012, provided their soil moisture reservoirs are replenished prior to spring planting.

How dry was it in Texas this season?

According to Bob Beakley, a cotton, wheat, sunflower and hay producer from Ennis, Texas, his heavy, black soil got so dry and cracked so deep, that when he dropped a six-foot hoe in the opening, only the hoe blade stopped it from completely disappearing. He showed me a picture to prove it.

“We’ve been able to collect some insurance, and we’re hoping to get some refund on our seed costs for cotton,” Beakley said. “With all that, we hope to be in good enough shape to go again next year.”

“Our cotton never came up,” said Freddie Streit, a Vernon, Texas wheat, cotton and alfalfa producer. “I planted a section in June, and it looks the same as it did when the planter left it.”

Streit said a total of 3.2 inches of rain fell on his farm from July 10, 2010 to July 10, 2011. The La Niña effect drove temperatures as high as 110 degrees, “and with the wind blowing, you can’t expect anything to survive. Ranchers I know have had to sell all their cattle because they need a lot of water and grass.”

In some cases, cotton producers baled up what was left of their cotton to sell for cattle feed. Typically, hay barns are full this time of the year. But with the failure of hay crops, many are empty.

Streit farmed during the drought of 1980 and says this year was worse. “We made a decent wheat crop in 1980, but we lost all our summer crops. And we made a decent wheat crop the following year. In 2011, we lost all our wheat crop in the spring, turned around and lost all our hay crop, then we lost a cotton crop this fall.”

Irrigation wells are running out of water, and rationing of drinking water is occurring in some areas, Streit said.

As the holiday season approaches, these two Texas producers are hanging in there, hoping that next season will bring a treat of timely rainfall. It definitely will help their cause if La Niña’s parents decide to keep her home. 

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