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East Texas pastures may take 2 years to recover


Texas AgriLife Extension

COLLEGE STATION — Many agricultural producers in East Texas are feeling caught between a rock and a hot place, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel. The agricultural losses from the extended drought are extreme. But added to those costs now are frequent wildfires which have destroyed fencing, hay supplies and barns, and scorched what sparse grazing there was left, said Aaron Low, AgriLife Extension agent for Cherokee County. “Talking with people who are more experienced with drought than I am, they’re anticipating that even it if starts raining right now, it’s going to be at least two years before our grasses are able to recover from this,” Low said. Low noted that while much of the media coverage has focused later on the loss of private homes and whole neighborhoods, landowners have also suffered huge financial losses of fences and crops that often can’t be replaced by insurance. Worse, while some fires have been started by truck blowouts and tree falls on power lines, other East Texas wildfires could have been avoided with a little common sense, he said. Thousands of miles of fencing have been lost in Texas wildfires. “If you figure a post costs $5 each, and there’s a post every 10 feet, it starts to add up,” said Aaron Low, Texas AgriLife Extension Service agent for Cherokee County. “The big fire that started Sunday, west of Alto, was just from a truck parked in tall grass,” Low said. “The heat from the car’s catalytic converter started the fire. These guys came up from Houston and were filling up deer feeders, and the next thing, several thousand acres of timber and pasture burned.” The Houston men lost their truck and trailer on land they only leased for hunting. The owner of the deer farm had more than a thousand acres burned. Other loses from that fire included nearly two miles of fencing on White Oak Creek Ranch, Low noted. Statewide, about 5,500 miles of fence and 2.6 million acres of pasture had been lost to wildfire as of July 8, according to Dr. Andy Vestal, director of the Texas AgriLife homeland security and emergency management programs. There’s also the cost of fuel, Bermuda grass sprigs, fertilizer and labor needed to restore pastures to consider if there is rain, Low said. “We are talking losses of millions and millions of dollars in East Texas alone,” he said. Meanwhile, regional livestock sale barns, such as Tri-County Livestock Market in New Summerfield, have reported about double the norm for cattle sales for an “extended period,” Low said. “Our sale barn owners and managers are extremely worried that they’re going to have a rough time staying in business next year just for the simple fact there’s not going to be any cattle to sell,” he said. More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife. tamu.edu/drought/ . AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries: Central: With another week of severe drought, stock tanks were drying up, and producers had to haul water to livestock. Many producers were sending livestock to local sale barns. The cotton harvest was ongoing, with some fields being abandoned. Wildfire burned several thousand acres of land and destroyed homes. Coastal Bend: With no rain forecast, the entire region continued to suffer from extreme drought and high temperatures. The number of cattle taken to sale barns rose as ranchers culled herds due to lack of water and the high cost of feed. Some areas reported smoke from the fires burning in the Austin area. East: Tens of thousands of acres burned across the region. Although many fires were contained as of this report, large fires in Marion and Cherokee counties were still out of control. There was no substantial rain reported in most of the region. San Augustine County was the exception, receiving as much as 2 inches in some areas. Stock tanks and ponds that have not already dried up were soon expected to. Producers continued to purchase hay out of state. Others culled more deeply into herds or were sold out entirely. South: Extremely hot weather continued to take its toll on all rangeland, pastures, soilmoisture levels and livestock. All counties reported very poor soil-moisture conditions. Livestock producers were still searching for supplemental feed, and feed stores were having a difficult time meeting their needs. Some ranchers were resorting to prickly pear cactus. Very low stock-tank water levels were an ongoing concern for ranchers. Southeast: Extreme drought conditions continued. There was increased demand for rice hay. The cost to irrigate rice more than doubled this year. Drought-management strategies for cattle herds included shipping and weaning calves early, culling cows 8 years and older, supplementing protein and hay, and herd liquidation. Southwest: The region remains in fire-alert status with no rain predicted. Firemen were near to controlling field fires that destroyed more than 100,000 acres of rangeland and about 500 homes in Bastrop, Bexar, Travis, Williamson and other counties.


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