Let it rain

Let it rain

Heat and an extended drought have forced cattle producers to cull herds, diminishing future prospects
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Sep 01, 2011

NATIONAL REPORT — Mark Twain once said it was best to read the weather forecast before praying for rain. Unfortunately for those in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, the forecast has been steadily dry for far too long. Those states, along with Louisiana, are experiencing an extended drought that has been likened to the Dust Bowlor worse.

Crops are dying, and ranchers face diminished water supplies for their animals. Grazing land has all but disappeared, and without rain, winter hay will be limited or non-existent. As a result, cattle producers are culling their herds and selling off animals that otherwise would have been creating future production, including heifers and cows between the ages of 3 and 6.

Texas is in its driest 12-month period in the state's history, and July was the hottest month there since 1895. To make matters worse, says Travis Hall, professor at Texas A&M University, who also is the associate head for soil and crop sciences, climatic models show a La Nina pattern, which pushes up the jet stream, giving states in the drought zone less precipitation and those north more than normal.

"I'm fully expecting a full two-year drought here," he says. "I can't predict the severity, but all of the major drought events are triggered by La Nina."

That means it could get a lot drier before it gets wetter—and better. As it stands, livestock auctions are crowded. Some sales in Texas reported they couldn't handle the volume because of the rapid movement of animals off of ranches. Although Hall notes ranchers "held off as long as they could," for most, waiting was no longer an option.