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Agriculture Today

Drought reminds us water controls destiny

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October 19, 2011 | 2,657 views | Post a comment

By Mike Barnett

The scars of this epic drought in Texas will run deep and serve as a reminder -- long after the rain falls again -- that water controls the destiny of the Lone Star State.

It’s been a year of records, all of which would better remain unbroken. We’re in the driest 10-month stretch since recordkeeping began. In my hometown of Waco, we saw the longest stretch of consecutive 100-plus degree days ever recorded. We’ve also suffered through the most 100-degree days in a year’s time, with another heat record set almost daily. There is no rain in sight.

You would hardly think it could get much drier. One of our local farmers dramatically illustrated this fact the other night on television. He stuck a yardstick in a gaping crack in his parched pasture. It disappeared.

I’m reminded as I drive through Waco that this drought in Texas truly affects everyone. There’s not a tinge of green in lawns that have not been watered, a stark similarity to dry land crops which wither in the fields and burnt pastures where grass is dormant or dead. Those trying to keep their lawns green are learning the frustration and expense of battling this horrific heat, just as farmers running irrigation pumps try to make -- or save -- a crop.

Trees, some well over a century old, are dying, in both the country and cities. They will be irreplaceable.

Many municipalities scramble to find new water sources as their surface supplies dwindle just as ranchers face hard choices as their stock ponds evaporate. Cities that depend on groundwater place severe restrictions on residents to conserve this precious resource. Many who depend on groundwater in the country are finding wells running dry. They face little choice but to drill deeper and hope the water is there.

Farmers and ranchers have lost $5.2 billion so far to this dry spell. That has serious implications beyond the farm, as 14 percent of jobs in the Lone Star State are dependent on agriculture. The economic consequences to homeowners will be huge as they eventually replace lawns and trees and shrubs killed by relentless drought.

Yet even as the heat sears the land, it steels the determination of those in agriculture. I talked to a group of farmers from Hill County the other day -- all which had lost crops or had to sell cattle because it hadn’t rained. There wasn’t a hint of give-up in any of them as I asked what they were going to do.

“Get ready for next year,” one replied.

That is about all any of us can expect. Prepare for the future the best we can and hope and pray for healing moisture to bring this parched Texas landscape back to life.

Mike Barnett is the publications director for the Texas Farm Bureau.

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