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Texas drought at nine-year high, concerns grow for agriculture

Posted at 7:19 PM, Mar 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-31 20:19:17-04

TEXAS — The extent of the drought in Texas is the worst it's been in almost a decade, and reversing it won't be easy.

With so much parched ground across the state, just about every crop this growing season will feel the effects.

"Drought has huge consequences across all levels of agriculture," said Vanessa Corriher-Olson, extension forage specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife. "Cotton, corn, you know, any of our crops in the state of Texas are going to be negatively impacted by drought."

In early March, data from the US Drought Monitor showed that more than 89 percent of Texas was covered in "Moderate Drought" or worse, the most in nine years.

Shortly afterward, "Exceptional Drought" (the highest on the monitor's scale) was declared in and around Coryell County, which as of March 31 still remains. The lack of rain, which has stretched over several months, can be partially traced to climate patterns.

"A large contributor to that was La Nina," said Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon. "When we get a La Nina in the Pacific, it tends to be dry in Texas during the wintertime, but usually not this dry."

With the first three months of 2022 now in the books, much of Central Texas and the Brazos Valley are running five to six inches of rain behind normal levels.

Drought isn't a new challenge for Texas farmers and producers, and most of them have methods for making the most of a bad situation.

"They're very familiar with what to expect or how to anticipate or how to respond within their production systems to drought," said Corriher-Olson.

Still, there's only so much that can be done to ease the dry conditions. Farmers are already having to deal with the high prices of seeds and fertilizer. If the drought causes further losses of crops, you can expect goods at the store to see another price hike.

"More inputs, the greater cost to the farmer, is going to, to come down to a greater cost to the consumer as well," said Corriher-Olson.

Even if farmers have the fertilizer they need, it may not work as effectively as they'd like. Fertilizer functions best when there is a good amount of soil moisture to transport the nutrients.

If there's any good news, we're not too far from the most favorable time for rain on the calendar.

"Hopefully we'll get some rain during the wet periods of May and June," said Nielsen-Gammon. "Those are climatologically the wettest months of the year. And by that time the effect of La Nina tends to wear off."

Until then, we'll take all the rain we can get.