Thesis on the Central Texas Drought 2010


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Thesis on the Central Texas Drought 2010

  1. 1. Copyright by Ameera Butt 2010
  2. 2. The Report Committee for Ameera Butt Certifies that this is the approved version of the following report: The Financial, Political and Economic Ramifications of the Texas Drought for Ranchers and Farmers in Central Texas APPROVED BY SUPERVISING COMMITTEE: Supervisor: Russell G. Todd William D. Minutaglio Mark Morrison
  3. 3. The Financial, Political and Economic Ramifications of the Texas Drought for Ranchers and Farmers in Central Texas by Ameera Butt, B.A. Report Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at Austin in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts The University of Texas at Austin May 2010
  4. 4. Abstract The Financial, Political and Economic Ramifications of the Texas Drought for Ranchers and Farmers in Central Texas Ameera Butt, M.A. The University of Texas at Austin, 2010 Supervisors: Russell G. Todd and William D. Minutaglio One of the worst droughts Texas ever endured began in 2008 and dragged on endlessly until spring of this year. Ranchers still have to contend with the ramifications of that record-breaking drought and so do farmers in the Central Texas area. Now, in the drought’s aftermath, farmers and ranchers must contend with high feed and fertilizer prices, hay shortages and low cattle prices at auction. And another drought may not be far off in the future. iv
  5. 5. Table of Contents The Texas Drought: How it Affected 2008 and 2009………………………….......... 2 The Rancher and His Herds ……………….……………………………….…….…....7 The Farmer: Whose Bread and Butter are Corn and Cattle………………………. 12 Insurance Programs for Farmers: Helpful During a Drought? ……....………….. 14 Groundwater Districts: Who Controls Water? ………….………………………….18 History of the Drought in Texas ……………….…………………….……..………..24 Weather Mechanics……….....…………………..…………………………..…...…….26 What Does the Future Hold for Central Texas?……………………………….........27 References……...………………………………………….…....................................... 32 Vitae ……………………………………………………………………………....…….34 v
  6. 6. Melvin Dube rises at daybreak to check on his 1,200-acre Bastrop County ranch. His property has 225 breeder cows, more than 100 calves, cow pens, countless piles of metal and broken machinery and a tin roof-make-shift shelter for his lone horse and donkey. “You just go from day to day and you don’t know what is going to happen except every day you have to feed and check the cows,” Dube says. One Saturday afternoon, the 65-year old father of four climbs on his green decade-old tractor he bought secondhand and drives to a pasture to feed the cows. The animals, hearing the tractor’s familiar sound, slowly make their way and wait as he takes the hay off the tractor. They’re patient. They know the routine. They seem to have carried out this ritual forever with Dube. After the hay is rolled out, he heads to his 3,200 square-foot ranch house, gets in his truck and hauls feed sacks for more cows in another leased pasture a few miles away. Some days, he has to deal with a sick cow that needs to be taken to the nearby veterinarian or he has to shoo away vultures who want to injure, kill and devour calves after pecking their eyes out. And he’s out there rain or shine – driving either his tractor or truck from pasture to pasture or visit his leased land down the road from his property. As always, he keeps an eye on the skies – wondering if it will rain. For him, and countless Texas farmers, the possibility of yet another drought is a never-ending concern. Droughts are a constant worry in Texas – they ought to be; they affect millions of lives and involve billions of dollars. ! "!
  7. 7. The Texas Drought: How it Affected 2008 and 2009 One of the worst droughts Texas ever endured began in 2008 and dragged on endlessly until the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Commerce declared it officially over in spring 2010. But, ranchers still have to contend with the ramifications of that record-breaking drought – where temperatures squatted above 100 degrees and once vibrant rivers and creeks simply dried up. 2008 was one of the driest years on record, with rainfall some 17 to 20 inches below normal, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority website’s drought information. Now, in the drought’s aftermath, farmers must contend with high feed and fertilizer prices, hay shortages and low cattle prices at auction. Because of the crippling drought, by mid-year in 2009, there was a loss of $409 million in hay production, according to Carl Anderson, professor and extension specialist-emeritus in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University. Meanwhile in the same year, Texas ranchers lost $974 million in livestock losses, according to the July 2009 AgriLife News release on the AgriLife website. Last year, their wheat crop was half the normal crop amounting to losses worth $400 million, according to Anderson. He said Williamson County, a little north of Austin, lost at least 75 percent of its potential hay production. The drought accounted for a total of $3.6 billion in crop and livestock losses last year, according to Jose Peña, professor and extension economist- management with Texas AgriLife Extension Service. ! #!
  8. 8. In 2009, the total cash value and production of crops and livestock, including crops, livestock and related agricultural income like recreational hunting, was $18.4 billion while in 2008, it was $20.3 billion, according to Anderson. Farmers in Texas have come to learn there almost always will be the possibility of another drought. The state has gone through cycles, over the decades, where the skies burst open for days and weeks on end – or the skies yield nary a drop of water. An infamous drought gripped Texas for years in the early to mid 1950s – and, since then, the legend has been passed down so often that most farmers have learned to pray and pray some more that the rains will come every season. And there will be another drought within the next decade because there has been an on-going cycle of five droughts in the past 15 years, according to John W. Nielsen-Gammon, professor at Texas A&M University in College Station and Texas State Climatologist. “Changing weather patterns will increase evaporation due to climate change,” he said. “Water demand will increase due to a growing Texas population change.” Water could be the new “oil,” just as precious and nearly as fleeting. The population of Texas will reach 35 million by the year 2040 and coupled with the precious commodity of groundwater rights, Texans will have to wait and see who owns water, the state or the individual. ! $!
  9. 9. Texas farmers and ranchers – and the millions of folks in the nation who rely on the success of the land in Texas – should study the cautionary lessons of this recent drought. During the drought, farmers and ranchers learned that when the surface water in stock ponds dried up, it was time to haul water. If the corn crop could not be salvaged because of the drought, it was converted into hay for the cattle so they could have some nutrition. Hay production was affected by the drought so some ranchers had to buy poor quality hay from other parts of Texas to feed their cattle. Both farmers and ranchers learned to reduce their costs for fertilizer, conserve their crops, dole out more money for hay and feed, all the while culling or reducing cattle numbers to combat the dwindling grass. And there will be far reaching effects of the drought on the ranching side of Texas agriculture. Farming operations can recover quicker than ranching operation, according to Peña. “There’s no question that drought affects everything,” he said. Even though the 2009 drought was crippling for farmers in crops and hay production and for ranchers in the grazing and cattle areas, “the 2009 drought will improve the use of land and water by agriculture operators,” Anderson said. He said there were “for example, a reduced number of cows per land area, and crop rotation patterns that increase water holding capacity of land.” “Urban use of crop and range land will reduce the land area devoted to agricultural operations,” he said. ! %!
  10. 10. And, he said Texas agriculture is growing post-drought. But, he said the non-farm economic activities are growing faster. “Thus, as a percent of Texas economy the agriculture sector is getting smaller. Texas has a large land area, good transportation facilities and ports to support a strong agricultural base,” Anderson said. Currently, farmers have planted their spring row crops, or crops that are planted in a row, and will harvest them in the fall, he said. And farmers have more flexibility with their land. “It’s hard to control weeds. The ranching side, once you have had a drought like we had, the favorite species of grass for conversion to livestock tend to disappear. The wildlife will eat and to the point they [grass] will not replicate themselves,” Peña said. “The drought tends to deteriorate the production environment for livestock.” Peña said it takes a long time for ranches to recover and sometimes they never recover unless they make investments in range management like getting rid of the woody [species]. Woody species are mesquite trees or shrubs. Peña said the recession has also played a part in lower-than-usual cattle prices. Even though the 2009 drought was crippling for farmers in crops and hay production and for ranchers in the grazing and cattle areas, “the 2009 drought will improve the use of land and water by agriculture operators,” Anderson said. He said there were “for example, a reduced number of cows per land area, and crop rotation patterns that increase water holding capacity of land.” ! &!
  11. 11. “Urban use of crop and range land will reduce the land area devoted to agricultural operations,” he said. And, he said Texas agriculture is growing post-drought. But, he said the non-farm economic activities are growing faster. “Thus, as a percent of Texas economy the agriculture sector is getting smaller. Texas has a large land area, good transportation facilities and ports to support a strong agricultural base,” Anderson said. Anderson said the big picture is “when you put everything around the hay feeding loss and buying expensive hay from Northeast Texas made it [the drought] [have] such a severe crunch in the livestock side.” “But in the agricultural side you could take out insurance and so the financial impact was less on the agricultural side than the livestock side,” Anderson said. ! '!
  12. 12. The Rancher and His Herds “This [drought] is really the worst that I have been through in my lifetime, well in my career time,” Dube said in early February of this year. “My dad went through the drought of the ‘50s which lasted for about three years and I know he had hard times back then but we’ve had other droughts but none that have lasted this long. We can always expect dry weather during the summertime but this was just a lengthy drought and it creates a lot of problems.” The most difficult part of the recent drought was the constant feeding and additional expense over the past two years. Last year, he spent $48,000 on feed; in 2008, he spent $32,000. In normal years, with no drought, the bill was usually about $22,000. During the drought, he had to haul water to one pasture because there was no way to get water to the cattle. And he had to put a fence around his stock pond during the drought so the cows wouldn’t get stuck in the mud at the bottom of the pond. Dube has a weathered face, chews tobacco from time to time in his car, and dresses in faded blue jeans and sturdy brown boots. He was born east of Austin in a town called Elgin, Texas. He uses at least $300 worth of feed and hay per day for his cattle. And in his 2009 federal tax return, he noticed he lost $25,000 because of his feed bill. The cattle consume about 1500 pounds of sack feed, a mixture of protein, grain and vitamins A and D, every two days, depending on how cold it is and what time of the year it is. Usually, he feeds them 100 days during the ! (!
  13. 13. wintertime, but during the drought he was feeding them nine months out of the year. He also had to contend with depressed cattle prices at the cattle auctions. It took every bit of income he had from the calves to feed the cows. Usually, he sold close to $90,000 worth of calves a year, but “most of it just went right back into feed.” “That calf when I sell it is right now about 450 dollars a head and it just depends you know on the price you get per pound,” the rancher said. “That is one thing we can’t dictate, we have to take what they give us.” Dube feeds them hay, which he raises himself, every other day. He was feeding an average of 25 pounds of hay per cow in the wintertime and he estimates he raised about 150 tons of hay last year. Last year, Dube sold 30 out of his 225 mother cows because they were too thin or too old. He mainly has a crossbreed of black Brangus and Angus cows. He said it costs $600 per year to take care of one mother cow that includes the use of land, the feed, labor, and medication and vet bills. He sold his cows for about $250 to $300 dollars, depending on their weight and body condition. He is wary of buying cattle because “I raise all my replacements and I hated like the dickens to sell any of the younger animals and then I also hated to sell because the cow price was so depressed from so many cows going to the market.” ! )!
  14. 14. During good and bad times, the best place to sell off cattle is at cattle auctions. People come to examine cattle and mingle with neighbors, make small talk and catch up on the community gossip. Parents take their small children to walk on the creaky, wooden infrastructure set up above the pens that hold the cattle ready for auction. Cattle auctions take place in Central Texas in towns like Lockhart, Luling, Gonzales, Giddings, Bastrop and Lexington. The one in Lexington, northeast of Austin, takes place in a building with a built-in ring for showing cattle and calves. Out back, cowboys – some saddled up on their horses– monitor the cattle in their pens. Inside the auction building, a cow enters the pen kicking and jumping from one side. The two handlers, one on each side of the gates, try to grasp the calf that enters from the other side. Situated above the ring, auction commentator Keith Bexley provides a lightning-quick auction “talk” about the appearance of the cows and calves. For a couple of weeks, he imagined there were at least 2,500 to 2,600 cattle sold. “A lot of cattle sold all of last year, not just in the summer or fall but all through the years,” Bexley said. “The drought had a severe affect on our area.” Dube said many ranchers around McDade saved money because they didn’t have to deal with a high price feed bill. He added they either completely sold their herds, liquidated quite a number or sold about 50 to 75 percent of cows in their herds. ! *!
  15. 15. “There was such a shortage of hay in this area this year and hay was being shipped in from Northeast Texas and almost all of the hay that I have seen shipped in was very sorry hay. In fact [it was] a lot of trash,” Dube added. Last fall’s rainfall brought much-needed relief in the hay department for him. “When it started raining [I] had time to put out some fertilizer and get a cutting of hay. Fortunately it started raining soon enough to get a cutting of hay. I made a partial cutting of hay in the springtime but fed that all in the summertime [last year]. Virtually in the fall of the year I had no hay left and fortunately we got the rain in time to get a cutting of hay. My hay is still in short supply but I think I have enough to make it through the winter,” Dube said. Anderson said the solution for that was “cut and bale low quality forage like grain sorghum and corn stalks. Buy the best quality hay they could afford.” “If they had a good year, bale it. If they had a drought year, they have more pasture space,” he said. They would have to bring in hay from Paris, Texas, and it was not good quality and “we had to supplement it with normal hay.” Dube is optimistic about this year and like Peña, he echoed the recession’s hit on the cattle prices. Dube said there are depressed beef prices and “even though the beef cow numbers are the lowest since they’ve been since 1958, there is no price increase and the outlook is because of the cheap US dollar.” “We are going to be exporting more beef and so one would think the prices should go up, but the forecast is for the prices not to go up much,” he said. ! "+!
  16. 16. But fertilizer and feed prices also went up drastically about two years ago, he said. Dube had to deal with the feed and hay situation on land he received from his father. He received 800 acres in 1970 from his dad, who had originally bought about 3,000 acres in 1951 from the United States government. The property was part of the Camp Swift Army base and it was shut down after World War II, he said. The land was divided between Dube and his two brothers, and each of them received about 800 acres. By 1966, Dube had accumulated 400 additional acres by buying out his brother, John, and from buying supplementary acres. In addition to his 1,200 acres, he leases an additional 600 acres around his property. ! ""!
  17. 17. The Farmer: Whose Bread and Butter are Corn and Cattle County Road 436, in Thrall, located in Williamson County, stretches in a “T” formation alongside the railroad tracks, which run parallel to U.S. 79. Crossing a small bridge on the road, there is a man-made lake with grass and reeds growing over the surface of the water. The sun shines down brightly on a recent Saturday afternoon and the only sound is the occasional “plop” of turtles jumping from logs into the water. In Thrall, seventy-five year old farmer Fred Richter has a total of 650 acres surrounding County Road 436. He grows corn on 400 acres and uses 250 for grazing. In the backyard of his farmhouse, there is a metal-wired enclosure for his cows and a former chicken coop that holds hay bales and assorted machinery. Richter’s family has been on this land, through his mother’s side, for about 100 years - since the 1920s. His grandparents sold the farm to his parents when they passed away in the late 1940s. With an awed voice, Richter said how “the land, in those days, was less than $200 an acre.” He owns 80 mother cows and during the drought had “very little grass production” for his cattle “and [the] corn crop [I] was never able to harvest it.” In a good year, he usually makes about 32,000 bushels of corn, but this year, he made about 2,800 bushels. He held onto his cows because selling them would mean having to purchase new cows. And he had enough hay to feed his cattle this year, but lost out on the grass production. ! "#!
  18. 18. “Planting time is starting now but the temperatures are too low and the moisture is too wet, the fields are too wet,” he said. Richter added that “seedbed preparations” – tilling the soil to put seeds in it – is not yet done. About 95 percent of his fields will be planted with corn seed by early April, except for some extremely wet spots that need to dry off first. Prior to preparing the land for seed planting Richter used herbicide to get rid of the big tufts of ryegrass-- a form of weed— that grew in bunches across the fields. “As soon as the drought was over the rain started and it kept us from planting any wheat and a few acres were planted and [that’s not] not enough,” the farmer said. “I tried to hold onto them [corn] and harvested the residue of the corn crop and used it to feed the cows.” Richter did something right, though. He harvested the remaining corn crop and fed it to his cattle. But he grazed the pastures too hard and reduced grass production for the coming year. When he was younger, his parents raised cotton, corn, and milo or grain sorghum, a grain product. He had bought the land from his parents about 40 years ago. Now he grows corn and raises cattle on the side. “Some years you make one crop and one or two will fail. You can spread your risk out over more units and acres and have another source of income,” he said. “I just choose to use cattle as my second thing to fall back on. When we are out of grass and no hay, we brought some of the real crop into the cattle. I think we would balance out.” ! "$!
  19. 19. But, the drought directly affected next year’s crop. The rain came after the 2009 growing season had ended, when he was “out of subsoil moisture.” Top- soil is where the crops are planted, but sub-soil is down below the surface– where the roots reach – and where the moisture is, he said. Anderson said farmers can plant corn and then rotate their crops out of corn for dryland crops. He said dryland crops ,-.!/0!123456!,2442.7!890-47!:;-<.! 32;:9=17!,2;.!-.>!9-6. And he said they could also limit fertilizer costs and have the appropriate crop revenue coverage. “Not much else they can do. Then, wait for the next season to plant,” Anderson said. “The rotation patterns are extremely important on the crop side.” Anderson encouraged ranchers to not overstock their pastures over 75 percent of their average carrying capacity. ! "%!
  20. 20. Insurance Programs for Farmers: Helpful During a Drought? The U.S. Department of Agriculture crop insurance program provides financial assistance to farmers – in Texas and nationwide – during the drought. The program, run by the Risk Management Agency within the department, helps them draw up crop insurance agreements between the farmers and insurance companies. “Farmers in Texas have come to rely heavily on this vital program for assistance during drought and other weather perils,” said Craig Witt, assistant to the Deputy Administrator for Insurance Services in the Department of Agriculture. In an email interview, Witt said a farmer cannot obtain insurance if the land in a particular area is unsuitable for planting a certain crop. He said losses are considered dollar payments made from the crop insurance program to farmers who have suffered losses in their crops. The USDA’s federal crop insurance paid $175 million to Texas farmers to cover crop losses in 2007. In 2008, this amount rose to $624 million, according to the Texas Fifteen Year Crop Insurance History from the Risk Management Agency. Witt said indemnities are payments made by insurance companies to cover losses of the farmers. Currently, the Department of Agriculture is debating a second draft of the proposed crop insurance agreements between the department and insurance companies who participate in the program. The final version of the agreement will be released in early May. ! "&!
  21. 21. The agreement between the government agency and the insurance companies indirectly helps farmers because it provides the insurance companies with the financial resources to sell and service Federal crop insurance, said Witt. About 85 percent of all “insurable crops” are insured nationwide, according to Witt. “Federal crop insurance was vital in assisting insured farmers in any drought,” he said. The policy is a “multi-peril” policy so it covers drought or flooding. He said, “the farmer can select a coverage level on most policies from 50 percent to 85 percent.” “If the farmer selects, say, 80 percent coverage, then the policy states that it will pay the farmer if the crop loss exceeds 20 percent,” Witt said. “The higher the coverage, the greater the premium the farmer is required to pay. A certain Federal statute subsidizes the farmer’s premium so that the farmer only has to pay a portion (currently about 50 percent).” Moreover, if a crop sustains a loss, the farmer can file a claim with the insurance company. He said after harvest time, the farmer could file a claim if the crop yield was less than the coverage selected. “If a claim is filed, an adjuster from the company would then inspect the farmer’s production and either deny the claim or pay an indemnity,” Witt said. Which is exactly what Richter had to do last year. He had an appraiser from an insurance company come out and weigh the corn in the field and take samples. ! "'!
  22. 22. “I harvested it and let it go into hay,” Richter said. “Instead of us harvesting for grain for 7 bushels [per acre], they deducted that and said you can make cow feed. I made cow feed out of it and rolled it up into this round bale and made hay out of it basically.” Last year, he had $180,000 in farm expenses including domestic and farm related expenses. But his income was only $150,000. Of the $150,000, he received about $76,800 from the crop insurance program based on his bushels yield or about $192 per acre for his 400 acres. Richter had insured his crops up to 65 percent – the maximum amount he could ensure his production with. He gave the example of car insurance. “If you buy insurance for your car, and you have an accident, the insurance company pays for the bill to cover the cost and repair. That’s basically the same thing we did with the crops. We purchase the insurance and then since we had a failure, the insurance paid,” he said. Richter said the level of insurance is based on the history of production and “you can insure for different levels of coverage. And you know most years you don’t need it. It’s the year you have a failure you have to get coverage.” ! "(!
  23. 23. Groundwater Districts: Who Controls Water? During the drought, the amount of surface water –which is found in creeks, lakes, stock ponds – disappeared. The dry weather sucked out any remaining moisture the land could provide for cattle, crops, and even domestic use. And that could pose a problem for ranchers like Dube, who despite having to haul water during the drought, wanted to sell water commercially from leased land. If a farmer wanted to drill a well for his own farming use, he could do that. But once he decides to drill a well for non-exempt reasons, the groundwater district laws in his county have to step in. There are almost 100 groundwater districts present in Texas. Groundwater districts are usually created by the Texas Legislature and based on local initiative, according to Dean Robbins, assistant general manager at Texas Water Conservation Association. Once a groundwater district is created, farmers and ranchers must have permits to drill water except under exempt reasons like drilling wells for domestic use and livestock wells for livestock purposes. Robbins said the rule of capture is meaningful primarily when no groundwater district exists. Then, it’s basically immunity from liability from pumping out as much groundwater as one needs. “If a groundwater district doesn’t exist in your area you can pump without any regulation whatsoever and not be concerned even if you have an impact on your neighbors’ well,” he said. ! ")!
  24. 24. “In Texas we started out as what is called the rule of capture,” Robbins said. “It is a rule of liability or a law related to liability for using groundwater.” “What it says is anyone can pump groundwater from under their land, use it for whatever purposes they want as long it is a beneficial use, even to the point of drying up a neighbor’s well without any liability associated with that activity,” Robbins said. He said that is the law of the land everywhere in Texas where a groundwater district has not been created. “Groundwater districts are usually created because they are starting to have water shortages and maybe a big city is going to come in and take a bunch of water or export a bunch of water,” Robbins said. “Districts seem to be more nervous when the water leaves the property.” Districts can either be created by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality or by the Texas Legislature. They are funded through user fees, or fees against people who are pumping water for non-exempt purposes, and through taxes. He said the revenues are used for the operating and maintenance expenses of the district – sort of like a school district assessing property taxes to fund the public school system. He said Chapter 36, also called ‘Groundwater Conservation Districts,” of the Texas Water Code is the body of law that governs the groundwater districts or how much it can spend on fees or how it can regulate itself. ! "*!
  25. 25. “The issue is because there is water under the county…. the issue is can somebody from another county come and pump the water out? And so the battle is do we get to keep it all for us even though we have an abundance, can we keep it from our neighbors?” said state Rep. Doug Miller, R-New Braunfels, who represents Comal, Gillespie, Kendall and Bandera counties. Miler explained ground water as “everything under the ground that the person can pump, whether you can pump it or not.” “That is private ownership of that water,” Miller said. “The surface water is anything in creeks, lakes, or streams, rivers. All of that is state water. So there comes the rub in that when you have, say for instance, the Comal or San Marcos spring, or any spring, is when the water comes out from underneath the ground and into the river, at what second in time does that water change?” Therein lies the dilemma. “It’s the same molecule but in ground water it’s privately owned and as soon as it goes into the stream, it’s publicly owned,” said Miller, who is the former Chairman of the Board of the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA), representing Comal and Guadalupe counties. Miller went on to say how that concept was re-affirmed in the 1990s in Cipriano v. Ozarka water “where Ozarka, in the Dallas area, had a plant and sucked the water from underneath Mr. Cipriano…” “He [Cipriano] sued Ozarka and they [the Supreme Court] again said Ozarka had the right to dry him up,” Miller said. ! #+!
  26. 26. The drought affected groundwater in some areas like the Edwards Aquifer by significantly reducing the water levels underground. The aquifer, a series of underground groundwater systems made up of limestone caves, did not have enough stream flow, not enough recharge and with pumping of water, the levels of water went down, according to Robbins. The aquifer provides agricultural, domestic and recreational uses to almost two million users in south central Texas. There are some controversial proposals that would cause a groundwater district like the Edwards Aquifer Authority to lose its water rights and allow farmers and ranchers to drill wells under grounds encompassed in the aquifer system – thus ensuring the groundwater is theirs. Billy Howe, State Legislative Director at the Texas Farm Bureau in Austin, said the drought made the Edwards Aquifer deplete rapidly and “if there is no rain to recharge it [the Aquifer]…it goes down and up pretty erratically.” “Most aquifers don’t do that because they are sand and gravel aquifers and the water seeps in,” he said. On the other hand, the drought affected the surface water in farmers’ and ranchers’ stock tanks, which hold water. “If there is no rainfall, there is no water in their stock tanks,” he said. “The surface water I was talking about was in the stock tanks, some of them rely on creeks and basically everything dried up. It got to the point where there was no surface water and then they had to start hauling water in.” ! #"!
  27. 27. Howe added the additional cost of water added to their costs “or to make the decision to sell their cattle off.” “With no rain, water is not there,” he said. “There was no surface water for cattle and ranchers and farmers would have to haul water.” In Bastrop County, Dube would have no problem getting a permit to drill a well for agricultural purposes. If it’s for irrigation or watering livestock, he said there isn’t a problem. The problem arises if he wanted to export water and sell it to different areas. For someone like him, who tries to get additional income from his land by selling water, the governing laws would not let him get a permit for the export of water. Not only was groundwater affected, but also the surface water in bigger, recreational lakes like Lake Austin and Travis which experienced record low levels over last summer. This is the part where the drought seriously affects not just the farmers and ranchers but also the urban population. “What happen there is on the surface you could see everything from the lakes down to small farm ponds lost a lot of their water. Many farm ponds dried up and in the lakes they dropped the lake water levels so low they could not gain anything from their recreational activities,” Anderson said. “The entire area suffers decreased economic activity.” Anderson built a stock pond in 1964 on his 150-acre farmland located about three miles west of Taylor, Texas. He said the stock pond filled up last ! ##!
  28. 28. March, a year after he spent thousands of dollars to clean out the mud that had accumulated at the bottom over the last 45 years. In the 1950s Anderson had to haul water from Taylor. The 1950s was also when the most dreadful – and famous – drought occurred. ! #$!
  29. 29. History of the Drought in Texas !!!In order to understand the phenomenon of such a severe drought in Texas, one has to go back into history to look at how Texans fared. “Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, a Spanish explorer of the New World, found a population of soil tillers near the site of present-day Presidio, where it had not rained for two years. Regarding the white man as a god, they begged him to tell the sky to rain,” according to The Portable Handbook of Texas. There was a very severe drought in the 1880s that was the worst, followed by numerous other droughts throughout the years. In 1887, the State Legislature had to step in to provide drought aid with $100,000. In 1918 the Legislature appropriated $2 million in relief and passed an act that could allow some counties to be able to purchase seed and feed. The following year, it added an additional $1 million. The drought that occurred during 1950 to 1956 also had a tremendous effect on the agricultural part of the economy. “We have lost a minimum of 2 billion dollars during this natural disaster -- or one fourth of our agricultural potential. In other words the equivalent of one entire year of production was wiped out by adverse nature,” according to an address by the Texas Commissioner of Agriculture in 1955 from Bulletin 5914: A Study in Droughts in Texas. Between 1952 and 1958, the direct assistance from the government was around $62 million. ! #%!
  30. 30. The drought completely sucked up water from streams and grew worse from 1954 to 1956. Finally, in 1956, the drought ended when it rained. Farms were smaller back in the 1950s. More people were involved and Anderson said he even knew some farmers who had to completely quit farming and left for jobs in Austin. They would have to carpool to work from the Taylor/Georgetown area. Eventually, he said, most became groundskeepers for state property. Meanwhile, rural counties like Williamson did not have a steady water supply. “That was one of the big things that the government was able to do was to make low cost loans to drill deep-water wells,” Anderson said. There were several more droughts in Texas. The 1970s, the 1980s – all saw droughts that dried out Texas. ! #&!
  31. 31. Weather Mechanics Nielsen-Gammon, a Texas State Climatologist, said a weather pattern shift took place in the summer of 2009 and “led to the shift from dry to wet conditions across Texas. In the summertime the weather becomes a lot more random, and El Niño is forecasted to weaken too, so the long-range forecasts don't have much useful guidance.” He said “next year we won’t know whether we will be in El Niño, La Niña, or neutral conditions.” He said the state has experienced approximately five droughts in the past 15 years, so “the odds are extremely high that a new drought will develop during the next decade.” Nielsen-Gammon said the ongoing cool, wet weather would be great for a soil and aquifer recharge – like the Edwards Aquifer. “Farmers will need a couple of weeks of dry weather to work their fields and plant crops, so in some places the frequent rain will be bad news,” he said. And he said, by definition, drought requires unusual dryness. “Thus, there is no such thing as a permanent drought,” he said. He said he expects evaporation to increase due to climate change and water demand to increase due to population change. ! #'!
  32. 32. What Does the Future Hold for Central Texas? After a two and a half year drought, the root systems of the grasses have been heavily damaged. “The livestock side is where the lingering affects will be. It comes from several directions,” Anderson said. It will take a while for the pastures to recover from a drought “if the root system of the grass has been damaged.” He said it was not likely the pastures and ranges will recover to their full capacity even within the year. He said in the long run, ranchers should look closely at the rotation of the fields, pastures and ranges. “Going back to the 1950s, one of the recommendations has always been…..encourage ranchers to divide their grazing areas so they could keep cattle off of an area so it could recover its root system and its growth. That advice has stood the test of time – even going as far as back as the 1950s - when ranchers were cautioned to divide up grazing area so cattle could graze in another part of their land while the grasses recovered their root system and grew. “It’s very different to find a solution for drought other than good management practices,” he said. The right thing ranchers did during the drought was maintain the nutrition of the animals they had, Anderson said. “If anything, they needed to make sure they had adequate nutrition and maintain their [cows] bodies and reproductive systems,” he said. “Those that were overstocked either had to sell and sell animals who were not in good condition and this was the heaviest death ! #(!
  33. 33. loss I’ve heard ranchers talk about. [They had to be] moved off the farm or ranch before their condition becomes to the point they are starved.” Farmers, on the other hand, “can manipulate crops and get rid of the weeds and capture all of the moisture and plant so they control the soil better and are better able to recover from a severe drought,” he said. “As opposed to a rancher who can’t.” Nielsen-Gammon said it’s easier for farmers to write off a year and plant again. “The concern for them right now seems to be getting enough dry weather to do so,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “For ranchers, it takes several years to replenish a herd, so they will not be back to full productivity for a while. Plus, in the core drought areas many of the grazing fields may have been damaged, and it may take a few years for healthy forage to return.” Peña said the rain began in September last year and the cold weather conserved the moisture. For the farmers, “right now, we are going to be able to plant very good spring crops whereas we have not been able to plant spring crops in the last two or three years.” Anderson says this: “It’s very different to find a solution for drought other than good management practices. You got to maintain water, proper nutrition, keep your animals healthy and if not, that is why many farmers and ranchers do a lot of culling.” But, ranchers will still have issues. ! #)!
  34. 34. “Yes we have grass but I’m not sure if they are ready to go off and re- establish their mother cow operations,” Peña said. “The pastures have been so abused from lack of rain. The other thing is, we are in the fourth year of a cattle liquidation, which is more associated with prices. We expect a lower inventory.” He echoed the thought that the recession also caused a slump in the cattle market. “In Texas, we are the largest cattle producing state in the U.S., the prices were weak and we had a double whammy,” he said. In 2008, he said there was a record high for the price of cattle. “They [the calves] got up to $1.40 and $1.50 in 2008 and in 2009, [it dropped to] $1.05. The recession aggravated the economic situation [that we were] already experiencing from the drought,” Peña said. He said prices dropped and costs remained high and 2009 was one of the worst years for livestock producers. In the end, it’s still a wait and see game for the cattle industry, according to Anderson. “In other words start preparing for the next drought,” he said. “The reduction of cow herds will impact calves and that will affect prices of beef,” he said. “There is a lag of about a year that we will see.” And those high prices will last for two years, he said. But, when could that next drought be? “[It’s a] fairly common phenomenon in Texas,” Nielsen-Gammon said. As recent as the end of April of this year, Bob Rose, the Lower Colorado River Authority's chief meteorologist, told reporters “that a mild drought in ! #*!
  35. 35. Central Texas is likely this summer as below-average rainfall lands on the region.” Archie Abrameit, extension specialist and the farm manager for Stiles Farm Foundation, said “people traditionally say we are in a continual drought that is broken by intermittent rain. If I look at the records that we have had over the last decade for instance, we are going to see more dry years than wet years. We might not see the affects this year.” Abrameit manages the 2,600-acre farm for Texas A&M University in Thrall. He grows corn, grain sorghum and cotton and winter crops like wheat and graze cattle, too. He’s been managing it for the past 13 years. Abrameit said they had to reduce their cattle numbers because there was less grazing availability. The Stiles family set up the foundation in 1961 by donating their land to the Board of Regents of the Texas A&M University System. The foundation is right down the road from Richter’s farm where the sun shines brightly on a stretch of land that has yet to be planted with corn. Richter sits in his John Deere ATV (all-terrain vehicle) as the wind blows heavily. He tells the story of how a neighboring farmer, whom he went to college with, kept asking him when he would retire. “Now I’m 75 years old,” he said. “It’s like that old saying: ‘Old soldiers don’t die.’ It’s like that. I like to work.” And he smiled. ! $+!
  36. 36. Farming and ranching are occupations that call for back-breaking hard work, long days in the fields, hauling feed and cattle in a society where more and more people are moving into the cities and suburbs for work. “It’s our lifeblood, if we are without water, we can’t function,” Richter said. ! ! $"!
  37. 37. References Robbins, Dean. Personal Interview. March 2010. Dube, Melvin. Personal Interview. February 2010. Richter, Fred. Personal Interview. February 2010. Nielson-Gammon, John. Personal Interview. February 2010. Anderson, Carl. Personal Interview. March 2010. Peña, Jose. Personal Interview. February 2010. Miller, Doug. Personal Interview. March 2010. Howe, Billy. Personal Interview. April 2010. Abrameit, Archie. Personal Interview. February 2010. Witt, Craig. Personal Interview. April 2010. Bexley, Keith. Personal Interview. March 2010. Lowry, Jr., Robert L. 1959. Bulletin 5914: A Study of Droughts in Texas. Austin, Texas. Texas Board of Water Engineers. Barkley, Roy R. and Odintz, Mark F. 2000. The Portable Handbook of Texas. “Droughts.” Austin. Texas State Historical Association in cooperation with the Center for Studies in Texas History, University of Texas at Austin. (accessed April 26, 2010). 641251.html (accessed April 29, 2010) ! "#!
  38. 38. (accessed April 20, 2010) (accessed March 24, 2010) ! ""!
  39. 39. Vitae Ameera Butt, a daughter of Dr. Fida H. Butt and Zahida Butt, is a Masters candidate in Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. She was born in 1985 and raised in Saudi Arabia until she was 10 years old. In 1996, she and her family moved to Austin for a better education. She attended Kirby Hall School and then LBJ High School for one year before graduating in 2003 from Pflugerville High School. At the University of Texas at Austin, she majored in Journalism and secured two internships on the Denver Post and Austin American-Statesman’s business sections. She worked on numerous business stories on real estate, companies, features and business leaders around Denver and Austin. After working a year at the Statesman, Butt applied for graduate school in journalism and decided on the University because of its top-ranked program in journalism. At school she perfected and learned new multimedia skills and emphasized in Middle Eastern studies. She finally made it back to the Middle East in 2009 for a press trip for journalism graduate students. Permanent Address: 1517 Natural Bridge Lane, Pflugerville, TX 78660 This report was typed by the author. ! ! "$!