ALTUS, OKLAHOMA - Parts of western Texas and southwestern Oklahoma have been in drought conditions for several years running and the deficit in rainfall has taken a heavy toll on cotton and grain production. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said the state has suffered $2 billion in agricultural losses since 2011. There has been rain in recent weeks, but for most farmers it is too late.
Sometimes the rain falls hard now, but it was really needed several weeks ago when crops were at a critical stage of growth.
Farmer Matt Muller said his part of Oklahoma has been without sufficient rainfall for some time.
“We were doing quite well farming until about 2010, the fall of 2010, when it basically stopped raining and for the past four years we have been in continuous drought,” said Muller.
A cool, wet spring and early summer this year gave Muller and other area farmers some hope.
“Things looked phenomenal because of the mild temperatures and the showers we were able to catch, but then August first it is like a blowtorch showed up,” said Muller.
High temperatures and lack of rain doomed most crops, but Muller said the drought-resistant Mung beans he planted did well.
“When it started raining, we jumped in and tried that crop and it was able to beat the heat of August and finish out and make a decent crop before it burned up in August,” he said.
Such drought-tolerant alternative crops and the use of irrigation where aquifers are not depleted help farmers get by, but yields on big-money crops like cotton are low.
Cotton farmer Clint Abernathy has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in machinery, like a cotton picker, but production in the past few years has fallen short of expectations.
“This year we did have enough rain in June and July to grow a crop that looks better and it is better, but this is ground where we normally would want to make three-bale an acre plus on and right now we are looking at a half to three-quarter of a bale cotton crop,” said Abernathy.
He said before the drought he produced much bigger plants with many more bolls of cotton. Crop insurance has helped, but Abernathy said what farmers really need is more water and better prices for what they produce.
“Even with crop insurance we are going downhill. Our insurance yield keeps going down every year. Prices on all commodities, except livestock, just keep going down,” said Abernathy.
Livestock prices dipped a few years ago when drought drove many ranchers to sell off herds, but few farmers in this area have anything to sell now. The less money they have to spend, the less money circulates in the local economy.
So farmers here in southwestern Oklahoma are hoping for next year will be a better year.