Karnes County drought nearing most severe stage
by Tina Sczepanik
Jun 02, 2011 | 1842 views | 0 0 comments | 47 47 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dry crumbly ground and parched vegetation stand in stark contrast to a fountain flowing at the Karnes City Park Friday, a symptom of the ongoing drought. Parts of Karnes County are already in D4 stage (exceptional) drought conditions which is the worst stage measured on a five stage scale of drought conditions.
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This little word will spark a conversation at the local convenience store, café, or just about any other place people gather to chat and ponder life.

The recent rains in this area gave life to many such conversations. However, although this topic excited many people and increased optimism, there is still one looming word that will stop an optimistic conversation in its tracks: drought.

According to the National Weather Service web site, a drought is “a period of abnormally dry weather that persists long enough to cause serious problems such as crop damage and/or water supply shortages.” Although the recent rains helped, it was simply not enough to bring us out of the drought.

“We will need several significant rains to turn things around for us,” Grady Kelley, Farm Service Agency (FSA) County Executive Director, said.

Local planners are preparing for a Drought Management Seminar to be held on June 7th, at the Falls City Community Hall at 7 p.m. This seminar is free of charge and open to the public. Guest speakers will include Dr. Joe Pascual, who will speak about cow herd management, and Dr. Megan Dominguez will discuss pasture management. Kelley will review resources available through Farm Service Agency and Russell Chesser, a loan officer with Capital Farm Credit, will talk about resources available through his office. This seminar will help give insight to local producers about options they have in such a drought.

A drought does not just happen suddenly; it slowly creeps up on you. As days, weeks and months go by, levels of concern increase.

J.D. Folbre, Karnes County ag extension agent, expressed his concern about the current conditions.

“I began getting concerned in the fall when there was no rainfall,” he said. “Then in January when many people received three to five inches, I thought it would end the stretch (without rainfall)”.

But of course, this did not happen.

“When there was little to no moisture in February or March, farmers were unable to get the rainfall needed for corn crops. What corn has come up will not make much,” Folbre said.

Currently, commodity prices are high, but unfortunately, local farmers are unable to profit from this. Farming is a business of supply and demand.

“We only have a limited supply right now (due to the drought),” Kelley said. “In a good year, corn crops should be six to seven feet tall, but at this time, they are barely five feet tall and will produce much fewer ears of corn (than average). Cotton is doing a little better due to being planted later… We must remain optimistic.”

People are also working behind the scenes to do what they can to help local farmers and ranchers through this difficult situation.

Folbre, along with Kelley and current District Conservationist David Bush, have met recently to discuss concerns about the drought. One of the topics discussed was crop loss.

“So far, we already have 50 to 75 percent crop losses,” Kelley noted. “February, March and April were 90 percent below the normal rainfall for our area.”

The group will soon meet with the county judge to discuss the county’s options .

One such option is to declare a state of emergency for the county due to drought conditions. The county judge must make this request to the governor who will then send this on to the secretary of agriculture’s office. This will allow funds to be made available to local farmers and ranchers to help offset losses from unproductive cattle and crops.

The drought is not only a problem for the agricultural portion of the county, it affects everyone. A drought has a sort of trickle-down effect. Rain helps meet one of the most basic needs, so no rain means no crops and no green pastures. Lack of green pastures decreases health and productivity in cattle. This means local farmers and ranchers have little or no cattle to sell to markets. In turn, local grocery stores must pay higher shipping costs to get meat or produce shipped in. This raises the prices for consumers meaning a harder hit on the average family’s pocketbook.

Not only do people have to worry about higher prices at the grocery store, but folks must consider a more pressing matter. Drinking water is a major source of concern during a drought and conservation of it is critical. Many cities in Texas have already placed water restrictions on local residents. These restrictions include no excessive use of water during daytime hours such as car washing or watering lawns. Another issue of concern is water quality in streams and rivers.

According to Folbre, “bacterial concentrations go up as water levels go down. West Nile (virus) becomes a more widespread concern also.”

Folbre added that people need to be reminded to conserve water as much as possible. “People should not water lawns until after 10 p.m. or only in early morning hours,” he noted.

As the drought continues, we must also continue doing what we can to endure these conditions and carry on with our daily lives. “No one knows what the future holds as far as rainfall. Farmers are some of the most optimistic people in the world,” Kelley stated. All we can do is hope for the best… and maybe take a lesson from a farmer.”
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