Local farmers, ranchers in Fort Bend County are feeling effect of hot weather

17 06 2011

Good article from Cory Stottlemyer, yourfortbendnews.com, posted today.  The article gives insight to how life in Fort Bend County is affected by day after day of extreme summer-like conditions that have arrived early this year.

No matter how long a person has been a resident of the greater-Houston area, it is nearly impossible to become adjusted to the extremely intense summer heat and humidity. No matter how much area residents prepare themselves or falsely believe they have become accustomed to the heat, summer in Fort Bend hits hard and moves in quickly, before some residents have time to register spring or forget about the winter holidays.

This year, however, the usual summer thunderstorms that typically offer a brief moment of relief from the heat are absent this year. The weather is no longer approached with mild humor or annoyance. For many local farmers, gardeners and cattle ranchers, this year’s drought has hit them in the pocket book and slowed down production.

Vendors at the Wild West Farmers Market in Richmond admitted to being affected by the drought to varying degrees. Ranging from large cattle vendors to retirees who sell produce as a hobby, the drought has impacted each of them in some way.

“Well, the drought has really affected me with production. Every speck of water that it’s taken to grow these crops, I put it on there. No rain whatsoever for this spring,” said Teddy Triplett, a retired heavy equipment operator who grows and sells produce at the Wild West Market every Sunday. “And of course we always like to rotate when so many rows are producing. We try to plant some more. We haven’t been able to do that.”

Despite frequently experiencing several weeks-long droughts in the past, Triplett, who owns a two-acre plot in Manvel, did not hesitate to call this year’s the worst one ever. With Harris County only receiving 5.68 inches the entire year as of Monday, his assumption is not far from true. The lack of rain has not put his hobby to an end, but it has not made things easy for him.

“I use the drip irrigation. If it wasn’t for that I’d be out of business,” Triplett said. “Anytime you run a pump, you know, it costs you. Not only does it cost you in the production, but your crops don’t produce as much. One good rain beats all the irrigation you could do.”

Waller-based Texas grassfeed beef sellers Don Hill and Hansjörg Abt offered a different perspective to the drought affecting the area. Their company is based around their cattle eating grass, which has quickly stopped growing because of the drought, forcing them to purchase grass feed.

“We have to supplement their diet with organic hay. That has been really expensive with the demand of hay right now,” Hill said. Abt and Hill also said that they have had to work with a smaller herd but are still putting in the same amount of work. As Hill explained, “it’s the same input but half of the output.”

Not everyone has been affected negatively, however. Pam Nawara, who owns more than five acres of farmland in Rosenberg, has an irrigation system set up to two lakes on her property, which she said has helped her farm.

“We got one lake that’s 20 feet, and it’s not real low yet. We have a small lake and then a bigger lake. We’re drawing water out of the bigger lake because the smaller one has less water in it,” Nawara said.

“Probably in July, if it hasn’t rained then we’ll probably have to draw out of a well.”

Unlike some of her fellow vendors, Nawara’s produce is still growing strong and on schedule, partly because she grows them in above-ground black boxes. It seems almost fitting that her station at the Wild West Farmers Market is located next to the owners of 444 Triple Grow, an organic gardening soil company, who has also learned how to combat the drought.

Owners of the company, who sell their soil by the bucket, are trying to advertise their product to gardeners and farmers struggling with the current dry weather.

“The type of soil that we use for keeping in moisture – we use a Canadian Sphagnum moss – and it is very superior material to take the moisture and just stays,” said Chou Symmes, one of the company owners. “When you talk about drought, this is the answer for that.”

Despite only selling their product commercially for two months, the Tomball-based business has sparked some interest with those looking for any way to improve their crop’s production. Symmes’ husband Edgar Poe Symmes said that while the drought might be harming others, it’s been a blessing of sorts to him and his company.

“From an economic standpoint, this soil consumes less water and is less labor-intensive,” Edgar Poe Symmes, Chou’s husband, said. “We’ve been very fortunate to be able to capitalize and help people suffering from the drought.”

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