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New ideas bud as local growers navigate drought conditions

Posted at 11:29 AM, Apr 20, 2023

BRYAN, Texas — Texas is no stranger to hot and dry weather.

In fact, complaints about the heat have dated back to the 1800s when Stephen F. Austin and his team of explorers discovered the state.

They wrote how the weather was bad for farming.

However, it wasn’t until the drought of 1950 that rang many alarms.

It was a years-long event of receiving 30 to 50% less rain than what the state normally does.

That prompted lawmakers to make changes.

The New York Times reported that more than 100,000 Texans were receiving federal help.

Now, some parts of Central Texas are experiencing something similar; a drought that’s been ongoing for over a year now.

So, what happens when the water does run dry?

Climatologist Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon at Texas A&M explained that we’ve seen less than 60% of normal rainfall.

“That’s serious drought,” he said.

A big reason why we experience these weather patterns is something called El Ninos and La Ninas.

“With El Nino, we tend to have wet winters,” Dr. Nielsen-Gammon began. “We just finished our third El Nino winter in a row, and that's contributed to the drought that we've been experiencing.”

The dry weather has impacted over 247,000 people in Bell County, over 230,000 folks in McLennan, 75,000 in Coryell and 19,000 in Lampasas.

“That’s a serious concern,” Dr. Nielsen-Gammon said when talking about the limited amount of rain.

It’s forcing produce growers to find alternative ways to grow so they’re not so reliant on rainfall.

At the Aquatic Greens Farm on Tabor Rd. in Brazos County is an aquaponics farm which means some of their produce is grown in waterbeds; no soil.

“Last year was the first year we ran out of rainwater,” owner Sharon Wells admitted.

Without rain, the folks there had to use city water for their plants.

That water has a higher pH or in other words is more acidic.

“He was watering three times a day, and his plants were still dying,” Wells said.

New questions began sprouting for the team.

“Anytime we decide to plant somewhere, the first thought is what are we going to do to water it here?” She said.

They planted new ideas, created massive fish tanks and created their own ecosystem, recycling the water and plant scraps.

“It's very, very important that we reuse just about everything,” Wells started. “Not just the water that continues to go around, but the pots that we use to grow in.”

The rain will come again, though.

“We got odds on top of odds,” Dr. Nielsen-Gammon said. “There's certainly no guarantees there.”

Until then, the folks are the Aqua Greens Farm will catch whatever rain they can, reuse that water, so that when it does run dry, they have a plan B.

Wells’ plan is to sell enough produce and good so that she can pay her volunteers.