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Agriculture Today

Large runs at auction barns continue, as drought lingers on

Large runs at auction barns continue, as drought lingers on
ROBERT BURNS/Texas AgriLife Extension Service Lack of water and lack of hay and grazing continue to force Texas livestock owners to sell out herds statewide.

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September 21, 2011
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Many agricultural producers in East Texas are feeling caught between a rock and a “hot” place, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

The agricultural losses from the extended drought are extreme. But added to those costs now are frequent wildfires which have destroyed fencing, hay supplies, and barns, and scorched what sparse grazing there was left, said Aaron Low, AgriLife Extension agent for Cherokee County.

“Talking with people who are more experienced with drought than I am, they’re anticipating that even it if starts raining right now, it’s going to be at least two years before our grasses are able to recover from this,” Low said. Low noted that while much of the media coverage has focused later on the loss of private homes and whole neighborhoods, landowners have also suffered huge financial losses of fences and crops that often can’t be replaced by insurance.

Worse, while some fires have been started by truck blowouts and tree falls on power lines, other East Texas wildfires could have been avoided with a little common sense, he said.

“The big fire that started Sunday, [Sept. 11], west of Alto, was just from a truck parked in tall grass,” Low said. “The heat from the car’s catalytic converter started the fire. These guys came up from Houston and were filling up deer feeders, and the next thing, several thousand acres of timber and pasture burned.”

The Houston men lost their truck and trailer on land they only leased for hunting. The owner of the deer farm had more than a thousand acres burned.

Other losses from that fire included nearly 2 miles of fencing on White Oak Creek Ranch, Low noted.

Statewide, about 5,500 miles of fence and 2.6 million acres of pasture had been lost to wildfire as of July 8, according to Dr. Andy Vestal, director of the Texas AgriLife homeland security and emergency-management programs.

There are also the cost of fuel, Bermuda grass sprigs, fertilizer, and labor needed to restore pastures to consider if there is rain, Low said.

Meanwhile, regional livestock sale barns, such as Tri-County Livestock Market in New Summerfield, have reported about double the norm for cattle sales for an “extended period,” Low said.

“Our sale barn owners and managers are extremely worried that they’re going to have a rough time staying in business next year just for the simple fact there’s not going to be any cattle to sell,” he said. (See above for numbers from one local auction.)

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Southwest District, including Wilson, Gonzales, Guadalupe, and Bexar counties, reported the region remains in fire-alert status with no rain predicted. Firemen were near to controlling field fires that destroyed more than 100,000 acres of rangeland and about 500 homes in Bastrop, Bexar, Travis, Williamson, and other counties. But high, dry winds continued to aggravate the ongoing drought. Almost all forage had been used by either cattle or wildlife, and many stock tanks were dry. Ranchers liquidated their herds. The few livestock that remained required heavy supplemental feeding. Also, there was minimal forage for wildlife, an important agricultural issue as wildlife resource management is the main income-producing activity for a large proportion of the area’s ranchers. The cotton harvest was completed, but about 40 percent of the harvest remained in field-stored modules. Cotton production will be down significantly this year as most dryland and partially irrigated cotton failed. Peanuts, pecans, and landscape nursery crops continued to make good progress wherever irrigation water was available.

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Coastal Bend District, including Karnes County, reported with no rain forecast, the entire region continued to suffer from extreme drought and high temperatures. The number of cattle taken to sale barns rose as ranchers culled herds due to lack of water and the high cost of feed. Some areas reported smoke from the fires burning in the Austin area.

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the South District, including Atascosa County, reported extremely hot weather continued to take its toll on all rangeland, pastures, soil-moisture levels, and livestock. All counties reported very poor soil-moisture conditions. Livestock producers were still searching for supplemental feed, and feed stores were having a difficult time meeting their needs. Some ranchers were resorting to prickly pear cactus. Very low stock-tank water levels were an ongoing concern for ranchers. More cattle were being sold at sale barns. Peanuts under irrigation were in fair to good condition.

Compiled from Texas A&M University and Texas AgriLife Extension Service reports.

Nixon Livestock Auction Sales

Total heads Cows Bulls
2010 2011 2010 2011 2010 2011
Week 1 788 2,618 78 492 13 23
Week 2 992 2,583 149 629 10 24
Week 3 1,214 2,278 137 n/a 18 n/a
Week 4 1,292 3,099 146 942 18 45
Note: Period covered from Aug. 16-Sept. 13, 2010 and Aug. 15-Sept. 12, 2011

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