The "Drought-ocalypse" Continues, Hitting Cattle Ranchers and Rice Farmers (and Us)

Categories: Environment

Image by U.S. Drought Monitor
The most recent map of the Texas drought.
There's been a lot of that wet stuff falling from the sky of late, but don't let all the rain fool you: Texas is still in the grips of one hell of a drought, along with most of the Southwest.

In the city, it's easy to look at the rain pelting out of the sky and groan because you've got to walk three more blocks or to growl because you totally left your windows cracked this morning, but it's still one of those terrible-human-being moments to complain about the rain, because the state needs it so badly. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 90 percent of the state is still in drought and 35 percent of the state is in severe drought. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reports things are so bad that 665 public water systems have put water restrictions in place.

Texas is known for oil and cowboy hats, yes, but it's also known for being cattle country -- hence the cowboy outfits. However, the drought has been driving the herd numbers in Texas to record lows this year (and they were already at the record low from the 1960s, when cattle got scarce in the wake of the late 1950s Six-Year Drought). It's also driven the size of the U.S. herd down past the 72-year low that the herd numbers sank to last year, according to Agrimoney.

And the herd numbers will likely keep falling as ranchers sell off their herds. They can't feed their cattle on the grass that isn't growing, so they have to either get the livestock fed using feed, which is expensive, or sell off the livestock, which they have been doing a lot of in the past couple years.

The livestock has been getting sold off, dropping the sizes of the herds and making it more likely that some of the smaller cattle outfits will end up cutting their herds down so much they'll downsize right out of the industry. Maybe it'll all turn around (i.e., the drought will end) and the whole modern ranching thing -- already burdened with plenty of challenges before the drought set in -- will recover, but it feels very possible right now that the day will come when ranching in Texas will be as of-the-past as those John Wayne movies where he plays a Texas rancher. And most of those movies weren't even shot in Texas.

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