The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

July 17, 2013

Local hay, timber production struggle as drought persists

Palestine Herald-Press

PALESTINE — This week’s smattering of rain was certainly a blessing, but local agriculture producers are praying for a whole lot more pretty soon if they’re going to be able to break even this year.

According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, currently 99 percent of Texas is suffering from some form of drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows most of Anderson County is suffering from severe drought conditions. However, the southwest portion of the county is plagued by extreme drought.

“We’re not doing as well as we’d like to be,” Anderson County Extension Agent Truman Lamb said. “We’ve already got producers in the southern part of the county who are already feeding (their livestock) hay. That’s bad.

“Other producers are just baling pasture grass that hasn’t been fertilized so they’re not getting a whole lot of yield on that,” he added. “We’re pretty close to the same levels we saw in ’12 and if we don’t get multiple inches of rain soon, we’re going to sink to where we were in ’11 and 2011 was terrible.”

Lamb said during an average year, hay producers would be getting ready to cut for the third time this time of year, but in Anderson County some producers haven’t even gotten to their second cutting for the year. He said the late cold snap the area experienced in April didn’t help matters either.

Another concern, Lamb said, is the rising population of horn flies, a parasitic insect that can cause cattle to reduce their food consumption, affecting weight gains and milk production.

Despite the grass and pest situation, Lamb said Anderson County’s cattle are “in good shape” at the moment.

“We’re seeing good body condition and the market is holding steady,” he said. “We may see some culling of herds this year, but I don’t think it’ll be as bad as it was before. We’re just kind of in a holding pattern right now.”

According to reports published by the Southwest Farm Press, Texas, along with Wyoming, Kansas and Nebraska are reporting an estimated 35 to 45 percent of total pasture lands as being in poor to very poor condition.

California, Colorado and New Mexico report more than 70 percent of their pastures and ranges are in poor to very poor condition.

The middle of the country straddles the drought boundary and shows some improvement, with the Great Plains reporting 30 percent of pastures and range land being in poor to very poor condition, compared to 45 percent last year; 31 percent of Southern Plains pastures and range land are in poor to very poor condition, compared to 33 percent last year.

Nearly three years of drought conditions are putting the skids on the area’s timber production as well.

The Texas A&M Forest Service reported in September 2012, 301 million trees were killed as a result of the devastating 2011 drought. Data was calculated from a survey of hundreds of forested plots across Texas and include both trees which died as a direct result of the drought, as well as those that succumbed to insect infestation or disease due to drought-related stress.

“Some forested areas suffered worse than others,” Ag Department Director of Communications Bryan Black said in an emailed statement to the Herald-Press. “The Brazos Valley region was hit the hardest, losing nearly 10 percent of its trees on forested land. North Texas and western Northeast Texas suffered similar fates, losing 8.3 percent and 8.2 percent, respectively.

“Trees in far East Texas seemed to weather the drought the best with just 1.3 percent of trees lost in eastern Southeast Texas and 3.9 percent of trees died in eastern Northeast Texas.

“The bottom line is Texas needs significantly more rainfall before we can begin to recover from this extraordinary drought.”