September 14, 2011

High and Dry

A closer look at the record-breaking drought affecting Texas.

Shelby: The hottest summer in U.S. history, the costliest loss of livestock and crops, and the worst wildfire season to date. Since records have been kept, the state of Texas is suffering the worst single-year drought ever. In fact, 95% of the state is currently in ‘extreme drought’ according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

After a summer of triple-digit temperatures and very little rain, familes across the state are feeling the heat.

John Wesley Shipp: When there is no rain, there is no grass and nobody can get any hay.

Shelby: John Wesley Shipp has helped his father haul hay for years, but right now, the two of them are working more than usual. That is because they sell the kind of hay that is used to feed cattle, something more and more farmers are running low on because of the drought. They are relying on people like John Wesley and his dad to bring food for their livestock.

So, when you are out on the farms, do you hear a lot of farmers talking about it?

John Wesley: The dryer it gets, the more people talk about it because it is more on their minds. They’ll start worrying because it’s their only way of making money.

Shelby: And money is a growing concern. The state has already taken an estimated $5.2 billion hit in agriculture losses, and many people are being forced to sell their land, animals and equipment to stay afloat.

With one-sixth of the nation’s 30 million cows coming from Texas, some experts say that the national cow herd could dip to its lowest level in sixty years. And it doesn’t stop there. The drought is also hurting consumers across the country by driving up prices for things like cotton, which Texas is the biggest U.S. producer of.

In towns like the one we visited, it isn’t hard to see why.

Okay. We are here in this huge cotton field. And in a normal year, these plants would be a lot higher and much thicker. But because the drought is so bad, and because the soil is so dry, things aren’t growing as well as they should be, and farmers aren’t harvesrting as many crops.

Mike Abbramite teaches agriculture at Refugio High School, and he is friends with the farmer who owns these fields.

Mike Abbramite: His crop here is half as it would normally be. So, it’s very, very dry, and it’s affecting crops tremendously.

Shelby: He tells us that this year, this field is producing less than half of the cotton it normally does.

Mike: He’s being affected with his bottom line because he has the same amount in costs but half the income.

Shelby: The drought is also taking a toll on those who don’t live on farms, drying water wells, ruining roads, and creating perfect conditions for wildfires to spread. One fire has burned more than 1,500 homes.

“When you get a fire established like this, with the weather conditions as they are, it becomes a very difficult and challenging situation.”

Shelby: Also challenging is the ability to predict when the drought will end, leaving those in Texas praying for rain and just hoping that the worst is behind them.

“What we need is a long, real slow rain and give the ground time to soak it up.”

Shelby: Are you worried it is going to be just this bad next year?

“Everyone is worrying a little bit. They aren’t sure when it’s going to end. And if it doesn’t end soon, it could get pretty bad.”

Shelby: Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.


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