The State of the Drought

We are pleased to be getting some rain this Fall and hope it continues through the winter. If it does, it should supply enough water to give us a spring grazing season and then we will await the summer and following fall to see if it extends. The experts say no, but weather is hard to predict. So far we are close to 100% on the typical fall cycle of southern winds off the Gulf bringing moisture to the atmosphere, followed by cold fronts moving in from the Northwest and triggering rainstorms. We did miss on the first two fronts which seemed too mild to jolt the atmosphere, but we are 6 for the last 6 as I write. That’s good news.

Let’s talk about the serial effect of a drought:

  • Grass - First you lose your grass during the grazing season and have no opportunity to grow a winter stand in the cool season. This creates a financial hardship by driving up both the amount as well as the cost of hay, but only lasts as long as the drought. Grass seed is lying on the ground as we speak, waiting for its rain to cause germination and growth. We’ll get it back as soon as the rain returns in spring and summer.
  • Watering holes - The next loss is the watering holes for the cattle. Two of our three ponds dried up completely by July. Our recent rains have had little effect on refilling them because the ponds depend on runoff to be re-charged and the dry ground sucks up rain as soon as it falls. That being noted, if the rains continue the ponds will eventually grab some water and it may be enough to get us through a spring rotation.
  • Trees - The last checkpoint in a drought is the trees and they have become our biggest concern. We are blessed to have oak and pecan trees that predate the civil war. They add not only majesty to our farm but nuts and shade for our pigs who live under their umbrella. Very valuable trees.

We also have an array of native trees, including the cedar, which happens to draw more water than any of the tree species in our forest. The cedars are either dead or dying and they are the harbingers of what might happen if this is a multi-year drought. The more valuable trees will go next.  We can afford to lose cedar. In a way, their loss is useful because the absence of cedar means more water for everything else in the woods. But if you lose 200 year old trees, it’s goodbye for our lifetime and beyond. That possibility is harder to accept. Every little bit of rain refreshes the oaks and pecans and extends their ability to wait this out. So whether these recent rains are a temporary interlude or not, we welcome the moisture.

JVF