2006 shaping up as driest in memory

Ronnie Lumpkins has been farming Lamar and Hunt County land since 1970. This is the driest year he’s ever seen.

“The corn crop is terrible,” Lumpkins says. “The last significant rain we had was in March. We’ve had nothing since then. The pastures are dried up and we need to be feeding cattle.”

He may sell off, fearing that a market glut will push prices down even further into the fall. “A lot of animals are going to the sale barn,” he says. “I’ve already culled down to my best cattle. I’ve been building this herd for 10 years and I may just start over and raise them again.”

“The last time it was this dry in Northeast Texas was 1956,” says Jim Swart, Extension integrated pest management specialist at Commerce. “It got hot in 1980 but it was not this dry.”

Lumpkins recalls dry years in 1980 and 1998 but nothing as bad as 2006.

Swart says a combination of heat (temperatures reaching into the high 90s for days at a time) drought and wind create severe stress for row crops and forage.

“In 1980, we had subsoil moisture going into planting season,” Lumpkins says. “This year we had none.”

Swart says the current drought is 15-months old and growing. “We turned dry the first of the year in 2005,” he says. “We’ve had little rain since then.”

“We ran out of water for cattle last year,” Lumpkins says. He got enough moisture to refill stock tanks back in the spring from one big rain, a 6-inch deluge. He says most of that water ran off, filling his ponds but not recharging soil moisture.

“We got a lot of surface water but nothing to replenish deep. I’ve never seen my pastures as bare as they are now.”

He made part of a wheat crop. “One rain made it,” he says. “I don’t know how it made wheat but it did.”

He says he can’t remember a time when soil was dry enough at wheat harvest to allow him to run a semi-truck through the field without fear of getting stuck.

Lumpkins typically makes good wheat and corn crops. “I planted no grain sorghum this year and it would have been a good year to have some,” he says. “But I get calls mostly from people wanting to buy corn. It’s a market decision.”

He planted soybeans on some wheat acreage that did not vernalize. “That was a mistake,” he says. In late June, he was trying to decide whether to let the beans fill out or to cut them for hay, thinking that other cattlemen would need feed following a poor year for forage and grain production.

Lumpkins says his corn crop got off to a decent start. “We had a good stand from an early rain, but then we had no more.”

The soybeans did not fare as well. “They never had a chance,” he says.

Lumpkins says most non-farm folk fail to understand how a drought affects local economies. “We have a lot of people that work out of this farm office,” he says. “It takes a world of labor, supplies and services for a farm. I thought 2005 was bad, but this year looks even worse.”

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