Kleberg, Nueces drought draws federal attention
“This has been the worst drought in history and everyone has been affected by it, the farmers, ranchers and the general public; it’s had a domino effect,” State Executive Director for Texas Farm Service Agency Juan M. Garcia said Wednesday during a South Texas drought tour.
Garcia and USDA, FSA Administrator Bruce Nelson conducted a South Texas tour to see the impact the drought has had in this area. The consensus of the local and area farmers and ranchers that Nelson and Garcia met with was that this area has been fortunate because it had a decent crop this year despite drought conditions. The main issue echoed by the farmers and ranchers is the necessity for rain this year that will affect next year’s planting season.
“This is the worst drought that has been tough on producers and has affected gin operations and also livestock,” Nelson said.
Nelson, a native of Montana, also said wildfires caused by drought conditions have resulted in livestock losses. He added that the drought has resulted in millions of dollars in losses to farmers and ranchers in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma. All of those states have qualified for natural disaster assistance from the federal government.
“Mother Nature has not been kind to Texas farmers and ranchers in 2011, although… it’s my hope that FSA’s disaster programs and loans can alleviate some of the financial strain producers have suffered from the devastating impact of the recent natural disasters,” Garcia stated in a news release provided by USDA, FSA Regional Public Affairs Specialist Brenda E. Carlson, who coordinated the event.
Garcia, who was appointed as Acting Deputy Administrator for Farm Programs for the USDA-Farm Service Agency in May, is based in College Station but travels to Washington D. C. often. He is familiar with South Texas because he grew up in Lyford and worked in cotton gins as a teenager. Garcia attended Texas A&I University in Kingsville and received an Animal Science degree in 1976. Last year, Garcia was named the Caesar Kleberg Alumni of the Year.
Garcia has been working with the USDA for 35 years and reported many facts and figures on the drought disaster and federal farm programs.
The USDA designated 213 counties in Texas, including Kleberg County, as primary natural disasters areas in June because of one of the worst droughts in a century.
The droughts, wildfires and other natural disasters which began in January and continue caused 30 percent or more loss of forage crops, pasture, corn oats and wheat in many counties, according to USDA information.
Garcia also stated that the USDA Farm Service Agency delivered over $1.6 billion in federal farm program payments and loans to Texas farmers and ranchers during 2010.
After Nelson and Garcia spoke at the Bishop gin, two producers shared their thoughts on this year’s situation.
Toby Robertson, a producer in Kleberg and Nueces County, said he had an average cotton crop this year.
“It was an amazing year to grow cotton, but I am concerned about next year,” Robertson said.
“There is so much the federal government can do,” Robertson said. “This drought has affected the industry.”
David Weaver, a Chapman Ranch producer, said he had a decent cotton crop but was also concerned about next year’s situation.
The next tour stop was at the Ricardo Co-op, and from there the group traveled to a Ricardo area ranch burned by a wildfire.
Rancher Stanley Woelfel said 150 acres of land were burned over a week ago.
“Someone probably threw a cigarette out here,” Woelfel said. “If you have a wildfire, the grazing is completely gone. The supplement feed is extremely costly.”
In spite of the conditions, Woelfel, who has mostly cattle but also farms, said the yield was still decent.
“We are fortunate we made a fair crop because the commodity prices are excellent, and this takes out some of the sting of the lower crop yield,” Woelfel said. He began working on a farm in 1956 at the age of 16.
Mike Yeary, who farms cotton, sorghum and some wheat, said much needed rain will provide moisture for next year. Yeary also grew up on a farm and began farming in 1970.
“Overall, when we have had bad years, we’ve been able to survive it,” Yeary said.
Kenedy-Kleberg County Executive Director of Farm Services Herb Schwertner, who was also present at the scorched ranch area, said dry conditions can cause fires triggered by sun reflecting off of a broken glass.
Schwertner also echoed the same responses from the producers who said they were fortunate to get decent crops this year.
“We just came in under the wire with a decent yield because of the ground moisture and a little rain in the spring,” Schwertner said. “In our area, historically, we get rain in September and early October; and if not, historically, it will be very devastating here and statewide.”
He said one big rain will not fix everything.
“We need a rain pattern, one in September and in later months,” Schwertner said.