Farmers, ranchers struggling to endure the worst drought in a decade

Russell Boening estimates that he’s only received about 2.5 inches of rain on his farm and ranch in Wilson County since Nov. 1, 2021.

“I don’t believe we have ever gone nine months with such a small amount in my lifetime,” explained Boening, who is also the Texas Farm Bureau president. “Most of South Texas is in the same shape, with some very small areas not experiencing that extreme, but still in a tough spot.”

Area farmers and ranchers will often harken back to 2011, when a similar drought took a toll on the Texas agriculture and ranching industry. Just like in 2011, the drought is weighing on farmers financially and emotionally.

“Drought is probably one of the hardest things to deal with in agriculture because there’s really nothing you can do about it other than hope and pray,” said Boening. “Farmers want to raise a crop, and ranchers want to raise livestock. Extreme drought makes that impossible.”

The pictures below show this year’s grain sorghum field for Boening versus just one year ago.

Grain sorghum field belonging to Russell Boening revealing the effects of the drought.
Boening’s grain sorghum field just one year earlier showing the difference the drought has made.

Inflation is also affecting the farmers’ bottom line.

“Our input costs have gone up dramatically,” explained Boening. “One example — we have heard of offers of hay for livestock being offered from other states at a reasonable price, but the transportation cost pretty much nixes that option.”

Meanwhile, in Medina County, the situation is the same. Farmers there are struggling with dry, cracked soils.

“Farmers are having a pretty rough time in Medina County, as we are seeing reduced yields across the board with our crops,” said Taryn Titsworth, the Medina County extension agent for Texas A&M Agrilife.

Record temperatures have come in conjunction with the crippling drought, leaving plant life, across the board, in bad shape.

“High temperatures paired with dry soil are making an impact on both irrigated and especially dryland fields, where we are seeing little to no production in the dryland,” said Titsworth.

Soil moisture is almost non-existent across South Texas due to the lack of rainfall.

Soil moisture is almost non-existent not only for South Texas, but Texas as a whole.

“It will take several periods of substantial rainfall to fill the soil profile again,” Boening said. “Until that happens, you are always in danger of going into a dry period again.”

Irrigation is allowing some farmers to get by. However, due to drought, pumping or watering restrictions limit just how much water they can use. That can often mean a lower yield. It may also affect what is planted.

“As far as major crops in Texas, grain sorghum, cotton, and wheat are more drought tolerant than corn,” said Boening. “But once you are on extreme or exceptional drought, no crop is going to be profitable.”

Area dairy farms are also taking a hit. Heat and humidity are one of the biggest stressors on dairy cows.

“Add in the fact that the nights don’t cool down like they do farther north, and it makes dairying in South Texas very challenging,” added Boening.

As for what that means for the consumer, Boening said that was a little harder to predict.

“If this doesn’t turn around fairly soon, the beef cow numbers will continue to drop, and that will have an impact on beef supplies and, therefore, consumer prices in the future,” said Boening.

There is only a small chance of rain in the forecast for the first half of the weekend.

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