A Texan comments on the ongoing severe drought and its effects on shrinking numbers and the infrastructure of the nation’s largest cattle state.
In an area stretching from Arizona to Florida, and from South Texas to Kansas, drought grips the land. It’s being compared to the drought of the ’50s and the Dust Bowl, and Texas and Oklahoma are in the eye of this rainless storm.
Ranchers, either seeing the writing on the wall or already out of grass, are selling their herds in unprecedented numbers, says Lloyd Huggins, a rancher in Hamilton, TX, on “Texas Agriculture Talks,” the Texas Farm Bureau blog.
“Many thousands of beef cows, the factories that produce the feedlot cattle for quality U.S. beef, are going to market each week in Texas. Runs of cattle in Central Texas auction markets now sometimes exceed the sale barns’ design capacity by a thousand head or more.
"Reportedly, some auction markets have been turning cattle away, as they have no more room in their pens. The grown cows are going directly to slaughter and the calves are being shipped out-of-state to more verdant pastures. Auction market owners are worrying about how they will stay open a year from now, as there will be far fewer cattle to be sold then because of the present cow sell-off.
"Corn harvest in Central Texas, where it is being harvested at all, is down by two-thirds or more. Panhandle irrigators are turning off their pivots and letting their crops die; they can’t put enough water down to do any good. Dryland cotton crops are non-existent in much of the Rolling Plains and Panhandle. Hay production over most of the state is virtually nil. Irrigation from many Texas rivers has been curtailed, even for the most senior water rights holders.
"Like any other producer, I’ve looked hard at my options on how best to manage through this tough time. I’ve got a game plan with cost-management contingencies depending on rain occurrence this fall. However, my curiosity has led me to try to put this into a broader context, so I’ve been studying a bit on droughts in historic and prehistoric times. I’ve heard some meteorologists already proclaim this drought as worse than the 1950s drought, even though it is of shorter duration so far. Some say it is worse than the drought of the 1930s. So far, though, none are claiming this drought is worse than the mega-droughts which plagued North America in the 8th, 12th and 16th centuries.
"Archeological evidence shows a 30-year drought occurred over much of the American Southwest and Mexico from 735-765 A.D. This drought is believed to have contributed to the fall of the Mayan civilization. A worse drought occurred in the 16th century. During that period, a moving area of drought occurred over what is now the western U.S. and Mexico for almost 100 years. Any given area experienced drought lasting 40-50 years. This drought is associated with devastating plagues among the Indians of Mexico. A third mega-drought, which lasted for 13 years, has been found to have occurred in the 1100s in Arizona, Nevada, California and New Mexico.
"There is little comfort in the fact that, so far, no one has compared our current drought to these past disasters that uprooted and destroyed entire civilizations. However, I don’t see much point in sitting and worrying that we are at the beginnings of one of these mega-events. Under these circumstances, the only thing I know to do is manage as best one can. And hope and pray for a rain."
Lloyd Huggins is a rancher in Hamilton County, TX, and president of the Hamilton County Farm Bureau.