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Experts Say World Will Feel Record Texas Drought


A dead fish lays near sailboats left high and dry at Benbrook Lake in Benbrook, Texas, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011.

A dead fish lays near sailboats left high and dry at Benbrook Lake in Benbrook, Texas, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011.

A report issued Wednesday by the Texas Agrilife Extension Service, an agency of the southwestern state, indicates that this year's drought in Texas is among the worst on record and that agricultural production has fallen because of it. That is bad news for consumers around the world.

More than 90 percent of the state is feeling severe or extreme effects of the drought. The costs have broken previous records, according to economist David Anderson, who spoke to VOA via Skype from his office at the Texas Agrilife Extension Service at Texas A&M University.

Texas A&M University economist David Anderson

Texas A&M University economist David Anderson

“The effect of the drought so far has been an estimated $5.2 billion through August 1 and that includes both crop losses and livestock losses to date. That eclipses the old drought record of $4.1 billion in 2006. So we are more than $1 billion ahead of the old record," he said.

Anderson says about $2 billion of the losses have been in livestock. Many ranchers and farmers have sold their cattle herds because water is scarce in some areas and because hay production in the state has fallen so low that they are forced to buy expensive hay from out of state to feed their cattle.

David Anderson says reduced herds caused by this drought will affect beef supplies worldwide for some time to come. “We are a large exporter in terms of beef around the world. Texas is the largest beef producing state [in the United States]. We have the biggest cattle herd of any state in the United States, so one of the effects in the future is that beef is going to be more expensive," he said.

Texas does not produce a significant amount of the corn grown in the United States, but the 30 percent drop in production here will have an impact on the international market, where Anderson says demand is strong.

Texas is also a wheat-producing state. And Anderson says the concern now is whether rain will arrive in time to save next year's crop. “A lot of the wheat that is grown in Texas is planted in the fall, and we are really getting close to the time when we need to have rainfall and moisture in the ground to at least be able to plan and then plant the wheat crop that will be harvested next year," he said.

Drought is not new to Texas. The Lone Star state has suffered through many of them - the longest drought being the dry period that started in 1949 and ended in 1957. Droughts in more recent years have not lasted as long, but they have been frequent enough to disrupt agricultural production and drive some producers out of business.

But David Anderson says most people engaged in agriculture in this weather-challenged state know the risks and try to deal with them. “It really is a very uncertain climate and uncertain environment. And I think farmers and ranchers understand that and they manage through that. While we do have droughts that happen, you get a good year that gets you through the bad years, essentially," he said.

Normally, this is the time of year when people living near the Gulf of Mexico coast worry about tropical storms and hurricanes. But this year, parched Texans are hoping one will come soon and bring much needed rain.

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