Fort Bend County Facing “Exceptional” Drought

17 07 2009

Article published by FortBendNow.com, written by Bob Dunn, July 17, 2009

Withering after six weeks of dry weather reaching into at least the high 90s, more than half of Fort Bend County now is experiencing “exceptional” drought, and the rest faces “extreme” drought.  The National Weather Service predicts a 40% chance of precipitation over the weekend, but even a day’s hard rain is too little and too late to reverse the ruinous effects the heat wave has had on many local farmers’ crops.

Unfortunately, this year’s searing summer may be just the first of many more to come. A Texas A&M University climate expert believes summers such as this one will become more the norm than the exception.  Dr. Gerald North, a distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences and oceanography, told the university’s AgriLife News service that climate models show “the tropical climates will expand northward.”

Annual storm belts that have made June the wettest month of the year in Fort Bend and other Texas counties will begin flowing across counties to the north, North indicated. Counties below that storm belt will be left dry.”It could be just a fluke that persists for a decade,” North told AgriLife’s Robert Burns. “But my guess is that it’s here to stay, but with fluctuations up and down.”

More than 40 south and southeastern Texas counties, including Fort Bend, now are in “exceptional” drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.  Local farmers have begun harvesting field corn and sorghum with “marginal” yields, according to Texas A&M crop reports. Some of those fields were so burned out by the weather that farmers have begun baling the corn for hay.

Local pasture conditions now are rated “extremely poor,” and ranchers have been liquidating their herds as a result.  “Texas farmers and ranchers are some of the most resilient people I have ever known,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Stables said in a statement. “Our producers have been hit hard with a triple threat, starting with Hurricane Ike, then with our nation’s current economic calamity, and now one of the worst droughts our state has seen in years.  “We hope God will bless us with moisture to relieve some of the pressure facing our producers.”

Farmers looking for financial help in recovering from the drought my consider a low-interest emergency loan program offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. Loans now at about 3.75% can be used for restoring or replacing property, family living expenses, production costs associated with the drought, reorganizing a farming operation and refinancing some debts.  Information on the program can be obtained by emailing Brenda Carlson, a public affairs specialist for the USDA.

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