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Drought so far cost Texas farms record $5.2 billion

The blistering drought in Texas has caused an estimated $5.2 billion in crop and livestock losses this agricultural season, a record figure that could still rise, state officials said Wednesday.
Image: Ranch owner Myron Calley after feeding his cattle near Snyder, Texas on Aug. 12
Ranch owner Myron Calley loads empty bags in the back of his truck after feeding his cattle near Snyder, Texas on Aug. 12.Jae C. Hong / AP
/ Source: news services

The blistering drought in Texas has caused an estimated $5.2 billion in crop and livestock losses so far this agricultural season, a record figure likely to rise further, state officials said Wednesday.

Field surveys from November 2010 to Aug. 1 this year indicate livestock losses of $2.1 billion and crop losses of $3.1 billion in Texas.

"There can still be some (more) losses there when we see what's harvested," said David Anderson, an economist with Texas A&M University's Texas AgriLife Extension Service, which released the numbers. "I think it's going to get bigger."

The previous record annual loss was $4.1 billion for the 2006 season, Texas agricultural officials said.

"This drought will have a lasting impact on Texas agriculture," said Travis Miller, an agronomist with the AgriLife Extension Service. "The most remarkable thing is the extent and the severity of the drought combined."

More than 90 percent of Texas is listed by the U.S. Drought Monitor as being in either "extreme" or "exceptional" drought, the two worst categories.

Many farmers 'can't hold on any more'
What is not counted in the figures is the collective damage the drought will cause for farmers and ranchers who will be driven out of business by two massive droughts in five years, Miller said.

"They have held on and held on and held on until they can't hold on any more," he said.

This year, drought has spread over much of the south, leaving Oklahoma the driest it has been since the 1930s and setting records from Louisiana to New Mexico. But the situation is especially severe in Texas, which is the nation's second-largest agriculture state behind California.

Texas leads the nation in cotton and cattle production. But some parts of Texas haven't had rain since last fall, and forecasters predict Texas' drought will persist through at least September.

The crop losses include cotton, corn, wheat, sorghum and lost hay production. The estimates do not include those from fruit and vegetable producers, horticultural and nursery crops, or other grain and row crops.

Since 1998, drought has cost Texas agriculture $13.1 billion. That figure does not include the loss estimate released Wednesday.

This year, crops and rangeland across the state have been scorched from a lack of rainfall and record triple-digit temperatures. Most of the state has been in the two worst stages of drought since the beginning of May, which means there has been complete or near complete crop failure or there's no food for grazing livestock.

Texas' economy will take direct hit from the losses. Agriculture accounted for $99.1 billion of Texas' $1.1 trillion economy, or 8.6 percent, in 2007, the most recent year data on food and fiber was available from the extension service. Losses in that sector have a ripple effect that's about twice the amount of the actual agricultural loss.

Part of the reason for the high loss estimate is that agricultural products are worth more this year. Strong global demand and tight supplies have helped push up prices for commodities like corn, cotton, wheat and beef.

Consumers will eventually see the cost of the drought passed on to them, although Anderson said it's hard to say by how much since processing, marketing, transportation and other costs also play a big role in retail prices.

Texas is in its most severe one-year drought on record. The state would need more than 4.5 inches of rain in the next two months to avoid breaking the 1956 record for driest 12 consecutive months.

"Perhaps the most telling thing about the 2011 drought was that even irrigated farmers were not spared," Miller said. "Many irrigators found that water supplies were not able to provide all of the water requirements of the crop in the absence of any rain and excessive heat."

Drought through 2012?
Miller said indications are that the drought could continue into 2012. "Climatic models now show that there is another La Nina likely to appear later this fall, which is not a good thing," he said, because drought follows the La Nina weather cycle.

The figures released Wednesday also do not include the losses caused by drought-fueled wildfires, which have destroyed some 3.3 million acres of Texas rangeland in the past 10 months.