County ag industry braces for tough season
By LPR Staff
While this weeks rains may have helped to lift Caldwell County residents’ spirits, they have done little to impact the nightmare drought that has plagued Texas for more than a year.
Across Caldwell County, which is at the epicenter of the statewide dry spell, farmers and ranchers gather to discuss the situation – and
to plot their next move.
“Every area of agricultural production is as bad right now as it could possibly be,” AgriLife Extension Agent Jeff Watts said last week. “The cattle producers are having to supplement feed and haul water, which is driving their expenses up, and the row crop farmers really just don’t have a lot of hope, because there is absolutely no soil moisture.”
Watts said a very wet February could be the only thing to ease the situation, particularly for row crop producers.
“You have to remember that this drought didn’t just start in 2008,” said Maxwell farmer Joanne Germer, who has cultivated Caldwell County crops since the 1970s. “This drought actually started the middle of last year. And the soil, at least in our area, it’s just dry, and hard, and there is no soil moisture at all.”
Germer decided to plant a wheat crop this season. Although some of the grain sprouted, Germer and her son, Leonard, Jr., who assists in her operation, are less than dazzled with the results.
“About 25 percent of what we planted actually came up,” Leonard, Jr., said. “And half of that has already dried out, and more is drying every day.”
The surviving stalks in the Germers’ field stand around three inches high, and continue to show signs of dehydration.
J. Germer said she has spoken with many area row crop farmers facing the same situation she is, and there have been discussions about whether or not to plant this year.
“What you really see is two schools of thought [about planting this winter],” she said. “Some people are going to say ‘we can’t afford to plant,’ and not put crops in the ground. Others are going to go ahead and take that chance and hope for the best, or hope that their crop insurance will cover their losses.”
Many farmers who would normally raise corn or wheat may move to milo this year, L. Germer said. Milo, or grain sorghum, is a heartier crop that can handle dry weather better than corn, which rarely does well in drought conditions.
“The only thing that’s going to help right now is if everyone gets together and prays for rain,” the Germers said.
Rancher David Schulle shares their concern. He said ranchers across the county are culling their herds and some are selling out entirely.
“The cattle market broke back in November, and the prices went down,” he said. “And now, they don’t have anything to graze, so they have to supplement the feed, and most of the tanks are dried up, so they have to supplement water, as well. The ranchers are having to make the choice to cull their herds at a loss, or keep paying for herds they can’t afford.”
Schulle said the impact stretches beyond cattle ranchers, and affects everyone that owns livestock.
“You can look [on the Internet] and see people that have raised horses that are just giving them away now, giving away good horses, because they just can’t afford to feed them,” he said.
In addition to the impact the drought has on producers, Schulle and J. Germer both said, it has impacted local businesses, as well.
“Everyone is running as lean as they can,” Germer said. “So the equipment that maybe we would fix or replace in a good year, we’re making do with this year. The ground being so dry and hard has been tough on the equipment, but we just have to knuckle down and get through.”
Germer said that farmers’ and ranchers’ financial struggles could have far-reaching consequences.
“If we can’t buy new equipment this year, the [farm and ranch supplies] don’t make those sales,” she said. “They don’t make those sales, and they can’t keep their employees. Then those employees stop eating out in restaurants… It goes deeper than ‘city folk’ sometimes think it does, and it doesn’t just affect us.”
Farm Service Agency representatives Jacob Chapman and Barbara Kelley said there are federal relief options available for farmers and ranchers, and that new opportunities for federal assistance are being opened up frequently because of the seriousness of the situation.
“We had an average of 16 inches of rainfall in 2008,” Chapman said. “And we were declared a disaster area, which opens up the Federal Disaster Relief. We also have some low-interest loans and other options that might be the answer for those producers that can’t get conventional loans.”
Kelley added the USDA is introducing new programs, at low interest rates, to assist ag producers with their needs as the drought continues. Both encouraged producers to contact the FSA for information on the programs available.
“We’re here to help, we just need people to know what we have and how it can help them,” Kelley said.
The Caldwell County FSA office is located in the Scott Annex at 1403 Blackjack. Their telephone number is (512) 398-4176.
In the meantime, there is little producers can do but wait.
“Farmers and ranchers have dealt with this forever,” Schulle said. “And somehow now, we’ll just have to find a way to make do.”