September 1, 2006
By Kenneth Dierschke
This summer brings back the hard memories of the drought of the '50s for Texas farmers and ranchers. Even if Mother Nature were to bless us with a slow, soaking five inch rain statewide tomorrow, it would be too little, too late for producers dependent on income from crops that never made. It will take years to recover for ranchers forced to sell because feed is either too scarce or too expensive to maintain their herds.
In the first seven months of this year, Texas Cooperative Extension economists estimate drought losses in Texas have reached $4.1 billion, overshadowing by far the $2.1 billion mark set in the drought of 1998.
Few parts of the state have been left untouched. Drive down any country road and you'll see crops struggling to survive or barren pastures burned by the relentless heat. Crop losses statewide are estimated at $2.5 billion and livestock losses at $1.6 billion.
That doesn't take into account the rising economic impact on rural communities. When farmers and ranchers have no money to spend, schools suffer, churches suffer, grocery stores, car dealerships and those that supply equipment and services to agriculture, suffer. With the Texas agriculture economy in the dumps, the Extension economists estimated an $8 billion loss when the agribusiness impact is included.
Even in the midst of ruin, farmers and ranchers are forced to look to the future. For many, that future looks bleak. Bank notes on this year's crop will soon come due. There is no income to pay them. Plans need to be made for next year's crop. Money will be hard to borrow.
Low interest loans, pushed by the government in times of disaster, are not the answer in this situation. When your back's against the wall, with drought hitting you on one side and skyrocketing energy and input prices knocking on the other, there's nowhere left to turn. You must have the ability to repay to even qualify for a low interest loan.
What is striking in this year's disaster is the lack of interest in Congress. While we appreciate the $500 million that Congress recently provided for farmers in areas affected by hurricanes, producers hit hard by the drought both last year and this year have been left high and dry.
Farmers and ranchers need a little help from Congress in this summer of ruin. There are all kinds of questions and all kinds of concerns raised by various individuals and groups when farmers and ranchers ask for help in real times of need.
But when you come right down to the nuts and bolts of it all, every American has a stake in the success of farmers and ranchers in this country. Without them, the safe and affordable food supply we take for granted would be in question.
Without some kind of aid, many Texas farmers and ranchers, along with their brethren in much of the country, will park the tractor and sell the cows. If they drop out of agriculture, the scars left on rural communities will be permanent.
The need for disaster aid is real. Economic help is needed and needed soon. Mother Nature let the agricultural producers of the Lone Star State down this year. We sincerely hope that Congress, when they come back into session in September, will see fit to breathe a spark of life into an industry that is literally hanging on by a thread.