- Jack Ewing
Grayson County Agriculture Extension Agent
“I saw 10 drops of rain in the bed of the pickup this morning (Monday)!”
Jack Ewing, Grayson County Extension Agent for Agriculture and a farmer himself, is down to counting the drops of rain - any rain - that falls on the county.
Ewing calls the current drought - anywhere from five to seven inches behind - “a very discouraging event. I'm trying not to panic.”
Ewing is on the computer several times a day checking out the forecast, and it doesn't look good.
“I don't see anything in the way of wet relief coming in the next 10 days,” he said. “June looks bleak and it's only a maybe for significant rainfall in July and August in the long-range forecast.”
Farmers are taking note of the dry weather, too. Much of the first cutting of hay in the county is done, and many farmers are getting around half the hay they got in the past.
“Unless we get enough rain for a good second cutting,” Ewing said, “we're looking at a lot of cattlemen having to buy enough hay to get them through the winter at $30 to $35 a roll.”
Many can't afford those prices, he said. This is especially true given the high cost of the fertilizer for the hay -- from old prices of $175 a ton to this year's $480 a ton.
Ewing said farmers who got fertilizer on hayfields in March had enough rain to let the fertilizer work, “but those who spread in mid-April lost most of the fertilizer value due to dry weather.”
There are signs that cattlemen are looking down the dusty road to high hay costs and drying pastures and liquidating.
“Last week,” Ewing said, “there were 1,700 head of cattle brought to the Upton sales barns, and that kind of thing can start a market crash. Buyers simply won't have that much to do with the glut of cattle.”
Ewing says summer pasture is dormant, but showers help.
“Pasture will recover fast with 1- to 2-inch rains, just enough to tide the cattle over to fall rains,” he said.
Field crops are not faring much better. Corn, soybeans and tobacco were in the ground and sprouting earlier this year than last year, but “mostly it's all just standing there; nothing's growing much,” Ewing said.
“We've got to have moisture in the next week or so to give us a normal year for corn and soybeans,” he said. “And we can't grow an alternate crop without rain.”
“Right now,” he said, “I'd say the field crops are just surviving.”
None of it is good news for farmers who have invested heavily in the 2007 crop, and if it's a bust, any assistance from the government is likely to come in the form of low-interest loans.
“Most farmers are pretty closed to being maxed out on loans already,” Ewing said.
Making the current drought worse, he said, was the freeze in April that seriously stressed everything outside.
“This drought is the second punch of the double whammy,” Ewing said, “and it's really hitting large trees especially hard.”
People in town are likely to feel the effects of the current drought if they haven't already.
“Lake levels at Rough River are over two feet lower than usual summer pool,” Ewing said. Park officials at Rough River say they haven't yet opened the swimming area because of the low water.
Before scattered thundershowers over the weekend, surrounding counties were asking residents to stop outside burning, stop washing cars, cut back on watering grass and to conserve water in any way available.
It appears there will be more such emergencies as the long, hot summer of 2007 plays out. Stay tuned.