Expect Economic Ripples From The Drought In Texas

AUSTIN — The drought map created by University College London shows a number of worryingly dry areas around the globe, in places including East Africa, Canada, France and Britain.

But the largest area of catastrophic drought centers on Texas. It is an angry red swath on the map, signifying what has been the driest year in the state’s history. It has brought immense hardship to farmers and ranchers, and fed incessant wildfires, as well as an enormous dust storm that blew through the western Texas city of Lubbock in the past month.

“It’s horrible,” said Don Casey, a rancher in central Texas who sold off half his cattle after getting only about two inches of rain over a one-year stretch and may sell more. “Even if it starts raining, it’s going to take so long for the land to recover”

At the moment, 70 percent of Texas is experiencing “exceptional drought”— the worst classification — along with 55 percent of Oklahoma and significant chunks of Louisiana, New Mexico and Kansas. Northern Mexico is also affected.

Because it covers a huge and economically significant area, the Southwestern drought is having effects across the United States and even internationally, particularly in the food and agriculture sectors.

Some of the farthest-reaching effects may be on world cotton markets. Texas produces about 50 percent of U.S. cotton, and the United States in turn grows between 18 and 25 percent of the world’s cotton, according to Darren Hudson, director of the Cotton Economics Research Institute at Texas Tech University. This year, however, yields even from irrigated crops have fallen about 60 percent on the high plains where the bulk of Texas’s cotton crop grows, Mr. Hudson said. Farmers have given up on their “dry-land,” or unirrigated, cotton crops.

World cotton prices, which had been at historic highs, have fallen recently, Mr. Hudson said, but that is mainly because the sluggish economy and other factors have outweighed the loss of supply.

“Although prices have come down, they probably would have come down more, had we had a normal crop year,” he said.

Because production has fallen off, he said, “buyers that would normally have come to Texas for this year to buy cotton for Asian markets are starting to look elsewhere” — to other cotton-producing countries like Brazil and Australia. As those buyers form new relationships, it is possible some will not return to Texas, even when the rains resume.

Other Texas crops hurt by drought include peanuts, corn and wheat. Also, pumpkins were in short supply with the approach of Halloween, the Oct. 31 holiday of which they are a feature in the United States. Rice crops will take a hit if the drought continues next year.

The cattle industry is also reeling. Many Texas ranchers are selling off large parts of their herds as the grass dries out and water becomes scarce. Some are buying hay from farms a thousand miles away, despite the high cost of shipping.

The sell-off of cattle because of the Southwestern drought could push already-high beef prices higher during the coming years, according to Kevin Good, a senior market analyst at CattleFax, a company that does market analysis for the cattle industry. That is because many cattle are headed to the slaughterhouses now, reducing future supply.

Mr. Casey, the central Texas rancher, has devised new ways of feeding his remaining herd. Because the grass they would normally graze on has dried up, he is using a byproduct of cotton gins that has the seeds and fibers removed. But he is about to run out of this product, which is often called “cotton trash” — and with Texas cotton crops reduced, it is hard to find more. So he plans to spend a few hours a day burning thorns off prickly pear cacti that grow on his land, to make them edible for cattle.

“I’m sort of waiting for it to get cold before I’m out there with that flamethrower,” said Mr. Casey, adding that ranchers doing this should be able to get exemptions from local burn bans.

Economists at the Texas Agrilife Extension Service calculated in August that the drought’s cost to Texas agriculture had reached $5.2 billion. The losses have only increased since then.

Scientists expect climate change to worsen the effect of droughts.

“While drought will always be a part of the natural climate variability of the Southern Plains, the impacts of drought in a warming world are likely to become even more pronounced,” David P. Brown, an official in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who is based in Fort Worth, Texas, said in an e-mail.

That is the case elsewhere, too, scientists say. Research by Eleanor Burke, a specialist in climate extremes at the Hadley Center of the Met Office in Britain, projects that if global temperatures rise by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) — a fairly high amount — then southern Africa, Southeast Asia, the Amazon and the Mediterranean region would be considerably more prone to drought.

Analysis released last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that in the Mediterranean, droughts are already increasingly common during winter, when the region typically gets more rainfall, with part of the cause being climate change caused by humans.

In the U.S. Southwest, the current drought is generally attributed to La Niña, an intermittent Pacific Ocean phenomenon that generally causes dry and warm winters in the region.

But Texas’s state climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon, also said that record-high temperatures over the summer — Austin, for example, experienced 90 days this year that reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius)— dried out the soil and worsened the drought’s effect.

La Niña has returned, and U.S. government scientists now expect the Southwestern drought to last through February at least. That is terrible news for farmers and ranchers and will affect a number of other economic sectors too, like tourism and electric power production.

For many, the worst part about drought is not knowing when it will end.

“Uncertainty is what makes it so difficult,” said Mr. Casey, the rancher. “If we knew what was going to happen, we could make adjustments.”

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About WeeWeed

Sarcastic cat herder extraordinaire. And an angel.
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8 Responses to Expect Economic Ripples From The Drought In Texas

  1. Well, maybe the rest ‘a the world now finally realizes what Teh Chosen One and the rest ‘a the Texas haters in DC have yet to acknowledge. The old timers say it’s looking more like the Dirty Thirties, ‘specially up in the panhan’le and up ‘ere on the high plains. Damn lakes and reservoirs are down so low the fish are ready to start buyin’ shoes and we’re looking at winter water rationing, too.

    West ‘a the hundredth meridian (passes right by San Angelo), droughts are to be expected, and agriculture exists at ol’ Ma Nature’s whim. But east of there, this drought is just as bad and we ain’t seen anything like this since the 50s, but then Texas had about one-tenth of the population it does now. Y’all help us pray for rain like we have been for nigh on three years, now…

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  2. WeeWeed says:

    Despite the Slimes mandatory gorebull warming b.s. it’s an informative article. Beef will be sky-high next year.

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    • Sharon says:

      Well, shoot, then they can start hanging the ranchers in effigy, too, for trying to gouge the consumer. But Barky’ll take ’em down a peg or two, just like he’s gone after the bankers….although if he has any sense, he won’t try to do it in person. One of those ranchers just breathes in his direction, he’ll wet his pants for sure. And those ranchers KNOW pitchforks.

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      • WeeWeed says:

        Yes. Barky, in his brilliance, doesn’t realize that ‘steaks’ must eat, too. And when there’s nothing to eat, there are no steaks. There is no corn, there is no cotton, and soon the prickly pear will be “endangered” – simply to keep said steaks from eating if Ken Salazar gets wind of it.

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  3. stellap says:

    Just heard on the news that peanut butter prices will soar – starting this week. Reason? Rising fuel costs and the drought in the South.

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  4. It made me so mad I could spit last week, when I got notice of a NASA atmospheric symposium focusing on drought. The climate guru putting on the thing led by mentioning the historic drought in Texas and the South. I got all excited. Was somebody from the govt finally going to give this drought the attention it deserves? I shouldn’t have been so naive. The PhD immediately downplayed the Texas drought and claimed that it was actually nothing compared to other droughts around the world. But isn’t that disputed by other scientists? I’ve also heard this is possibly THE hotspot right now. I couldn’t help but think that our dear Space Agency is once again being used as a political pawn, since it seemed like the whole point of this symposium was to downplay the US drought. Texas STILL has a big target right there on it’s ten gallon hat.

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  5. Pingback: Expect Economic Ripples From The Drought In Texas « Feeds « Local News Feeds

  6. Pingback: The 8th Annual Blanco Lavender Festival, June 8th — 10th, 2012 | The Itinerant Texan

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