Agricultural Losses From Drought Top $7 Billion

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The drought has caused agricultural losses greater than any other in Texas' history.

It’s official: the current Texas drought has been the costliest in history, resulting in $7.62 billion in agricultural losses, according to an update today from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service at Texas A&M University. That’s nearly twice as high as the previous record, $4.1 billion in losses during the 2006 drought, and equal to nearly half of Texas’ agricultural business over the last four years.

“No one alive has seen single-year drought damage to this extent,” Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension agronomist and a member of the Governor’s Drought Preparedness Council said in a release. “Texas farmers and ranchers are not strangers to drought, but the intensity of the drought, reflected in record high temperatures, record low precipitation, unprecedented winds coupled with duration – all came together to devastate production agriculture.”

Today’s numbers are an update from a previous estimate released in August 2011. The Agrilife Extension service says that there was still some time left in the growing and grazing seasons after that point, hence the updated losses today. Livestock made up the biggest part of the losses, with $3.2 billion lost. With little rain, grass simply didn’t grow, and ranchers had to buy hay at record-high prices from as far away as Montana. Many ranchers sold off their herds, which resulted in the largest decline in the beef cow inventory in Texas history.

Texas is the largest cotton-producing state in the country, and many in the state are “dry-land” cotton farmers that rely entirely on rainfall for their crop, according to AgriLife Extension. 2011 had the largest rate of abandonment of acres ever seen and resulted in $2.2 billion in losses, the largest crop loss during the drought.

“We do have a couple of areas where the drought effects linger,” David Anderson, AgriLife Extension livestock economist, tells StateImpact Texas. “On the livestock side of things, the multi-year effects of drought are common. It just takes time for the grasses to recover. They went through a lot of stress. There was a lot of just simply death loss of those grasses, where they didn’t go dormant in the heat of the summer, they actually died because there wasn’t any rain. So it just takes time, sometimes several years, to recover from the effects of drought.”

Back in March, rice farmers in southeast Texas were cut off from water for irrigation for the first time in history because there wasn’t enough water in the Highland Lakes.

“While much of the state began to receive some relief from this drought in late fall or early winter,” Miller says in the release, “most of the large areas of the plains and West Texas have yet to receive any relief.”

Here are the total losses from 2011 resulting from the drought, according to AgriLife Extension. The previous estimates from August 2011 are noted in parentheses:

  • Livestock: $3.23 billion (up from $2.06 billion)
  • Lost hay production value: $750 million (no change)
  • Cotton: $2.2 billion (up from $1.8 billion)
  • Corn: $736 million (up from $409 million)
  • Wheat: $314 million (up from $243 million)
  • Sorghum: $385 million (up from $63 million)

And here are losses from previous droughts in Texas. It’s clear that this drought has had a devastatingly high impact compared to other years:

  • 2009 – $3.6 billion
  • 2008 – $1.4 billion
  • 2006 – $4.1 billion
  • 2002 – $316 million
  • 2000 – $1.1 billion
  • 1999 – $223 million
  • 1998 – $2.4 billion

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