Panhandle ag producers try to recover from drought damage

Disastrous wildfires scorched more than 1.2 million acres across Texas between Jan.1 and March 19, 2006. Most of the fires occurred in the northern half of the state, including the deadly East Amarillo Complex fire. In addition to the loss of human life, property and acreage, thousands of head of livestock were killed and injured in the blazes. Six months after the end of the worst fires, Panhandle agricultural producers are working to recover from the devastation, but drought conditions have hindered their efforts.

“The first four to five months after the fire were characterized by drought, above-average temperatures and wind,” says Ted McCollum, Texas Cooperative Extension beef cattle specialist in Amarillo. “So, the recovery period had a tough start. Some areas have had some soil movement from the winds. The rains over the past few weeks have helped a lot of the burned area; however, there are still spots that are not as fortunate as others.”

McCollum adds that because of the extremely dry conditions when the rains started, the area will still need more moisture this fall and winter to stimulate growth next spring and continue the recovery.

Rains have helped the outlook for small grains, giving farmers an excellent opportunity to plant wheat for winter pastures.

“I have seen a few fields that were ‘planted on a prayer’ early and the wheat has emerged,” McCollum says. “Most has just been planted or will be this week or next.”

Ranchers continue to replace fences, corrals, barns and other structures lost to the fire.

“A lot of the area that was affected [by wildfires] was ranch country, and the folks are and always will be cattle producers,” McCollum said. “Many had destocked — fully or partially — due to the fire, and realized that they would not be able to restock until next year or later, drought or not.”

According to McCollum, a lot of fencing has not been completed, so restocking would still not possible in some of these areas, “even if we had had a miraculous recovery.”

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