Surviving the Texas Drought

June 6, 2013 06:00 AM
Surviving the Texas Drought

The drought in Texas is now in its third year, which means growing crops has become a daunting if not impossible task.

As a dust devil barrels across the Texas field, it helps paint a picture of just how dry it is.

"Right now it's dry 10 or 20 foot down, I mean from top to bottom," says Lyle Tate, who farms outside of Amarillo, Texas.

The persisting drought is in its third year. Just last week, 70 mph winds created conditions that could easily be mistaken for the Dust Bowl Era. The winds kicked up dirt, creating low visibility with the potential to damage crops.

"I think if we would have been farming like they were in the 1930s, we would see a huge Dust Bowl, and with our practices now where we're no-tilling and leaving as much cover on top as we can, I mean you see dirt blowing, but i don't think it's near what it would be," says David Cleavinger, a wheat producer in Willoford, Texas.

"If you've got any kind of moisture, it's because you paid for it," says Chance McMillan, a farmer in Plainview, Texas.

The latest drought monitor shows more than 96% of the state is in some level of drought. The worst of it seems to be in the Texas Panhandle, where the highest level of drought consumes much of the area.

The dry dirt is now rock solid, making it difficult for crops to grow.

"Whenever I planted, I couldn't plant into it, the ground was really hard, and I couldn’t get my planter to go in the ground due to the lack of moisture," says McMillan. "So, we plowed it up and replanted it on the second of May."

Farmers are being forced to change their practices to eliminate the potential loss of soil and yield.

"It's just so dry right all the way down, and there's just no sub-moisture whatsoever," says Cleavinger. "That’s the problem. You don't want to touch it, because if you do go in there and plow it, it just puffs it up and makes it blow even worse."

That’s why people are moving to no-till practices. However, the lingering drought is pushing some farmers to plow dryland corners and other areas.

"The two years have presented a particular challenge to have enough residue to keep the ground from blowing to keep the no till thing going," says R.N. Hopper, a farmer in Petersburg, Texas."

With two dry years under their belt, farmers have become more aware of what they need to do to grow a crop in desert-like conditions.

"Maybe we have smarter practices, but I don't know if we're smarter," says Hopper.

"The thing that we're learning is you have to cut your acres in half in order to keep up with the water," McMillan says.

As new crops try to shoot up despite little rain, it’s the wheat crop that seems to be suffering the most. Wheat plants are only a foot high and most will yield less than one bushel per acre. With the outlook on this year’s wheat crop so poor, many farmers say they won’t even harvest their crop this year.

texas wheat 1

"The dryland just isn't there," says Cleavinger. "If it was planted late, a lot of it didn't even come up. It's pretty much cover is basically all it is."

And the irrigated wheat got zapped this year by late freezes. So, most farmers will either leave the wheat for cover, or have already cut or grazed this year’s crop.

As area farmers hope for rain, they say if the moisture doesn’t come between now and the beginning of July, the possibility of making a dryland crop this year will fade.

"It's hard to say how do you survive this stuff," says Cleavinger. "They say in the 50s they went through his drought and how it took the tough people to stay.


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