Farmers, Fields Wither in Drought
Texas is suffering through its third-worst drought on record. Some farmers say it could be the most damaging, as they worry about the immediate and future impact of a long, hot, summer.
Mike Randig is one of them. As he steers his tractor in triple digit heat, Randig is not harvesting so much as salvaging what he can from a field of milo, a common feed crop. Lately, the only thing sprouting at his feet are deep cracks opening up in the parched farmland, north of Austin.
“Look at that crack there how big it is!” Randig says and points at the ground. “That bugger is about three inches wide and probably six feet deep!” He laughs.
Randig turns 50 this year. He has farmed this land his whole life and he has never seen conditions this bad.
The U.S. Agriculture Department backs that up. Its “drought monitor” shows that three-quarters of the state are at the highest drought level. The loss of crops brought on by the weather means that the price of feed has gone so high that ranchers, like Randig, cannot afford to keep their cattle. So, they are selling them before they mature. That will have long lasting impacts on food prices.
“In a year of two there won’t be a whole lot of beef around,” Randig says. “Or you won’t be able to afford it in the grocery store [because] it will be so high.”
It’s not just the drought that’s afflicting Texas. Meteorologist Bob Rose says it’s also the heat.
“I know that area in the panhandle like Midland and Lubbock during June,” Bob Rose says. “They didn’t only set their hottest June on record. They set their hottest month ever. And in many other areas around the state we saw . . . the second-hottest June on record.”
Rose works for the Lower Colorado River Authority, the state agency that oversees water in Central Texas. He attributes the drought and the heat to weather patterns thousands of miles away in the Pacific Ocean. He says it might be with us for a while.
“The drought . . . starts to self-perpetuate when you create these very warm temperatures,” Rose says. “It also warms the atmosphere above us, which makes the atmosphere very stable.”
A stable atmosphere means no rain and more heat. Rose says the best hope is a tropical system blowing some moisture in from the South. Whether that will come soon enough for Mike Randig is an open question.
“We are even thinking about maybe moving up the country, if we can find work,” Randig says. “But I doubt there’s going to be much grain to haul in the United States this year.”
But even if he moves north, he will not find better conditions. Today in Oklahoma, Governor Mary Fallin issued a ban on outdoor burning in most of the state because of the drought.
Click on the video player below to watch meteorologist Bob Rose’s answer to the question “Is the Gulf our only hope for rain?” (Video courtesy of the LCRA.)