Archive for Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Texas farmers seek help

August 30, 2000


— Samie Erwin's peanut crop usually is knee-high and green by now, his watermelons plump and ripening on the vine.

But when U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman toured drought-damaged North Texas on Tuesday, much of the peanut crop was brittle, brown ground cover and the melons busted open, puny or plowed under.

"I've lost 100 percent on some fields, 50 percent on others," said Erwin, 65, who has farmed all his life near Boyd. "It could rain 5 inches now and it won't help."

"These folks are really hurting. I don't like to be here on a day setting records," said Glickman, referring to North Texas' record-setting 60 days without rain. The previous record was set in 1934 and matched in 1950.

"We are going to examine every avenue there is administratively, I can tell you right now," to help farmers survive, said Glickman, standing in Erwin's watermelon field, sweat on his face and dust on his shoes.

Texas continued to bake under the sun Tuesday, with the temperature hitting 103 degrees. High temperatures and winds continued to deplete the soil moisture and threaten such crops as hay, cotton and alfalfa.

Texas farmers and ranchers already are expected to lose about $595 million, a figure that is expected to grow as the drought continues. The blow to cotton farmers is expected to be $285 million at minimum, economists predict.

The drought's long-term effects could mean higher beef prices at the supermarket because many Texas ranchers have been forced to sharply reduce their herds. Cotton supplies should remain plentiful worldwide, but farm-level prices for U.S. cotton could go up, economists said.

A longer dry spell than Texas endured during the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, the drought has fueled wildfires around the state and lowered lake levels, forcing some communities to ration water.

National Weather Service computer models hint at the chance of rain within 10 days, but Fort Worth-based forecaster Dave Martin said he doubted that the drought would break. Temperatures are expected to stay locked in the triple digits.

"Maybe we'll get something in 10 days, but I wouldn't bet my house on it," Martin said.

It was Glickman's second tour of drought devastation in Texas. In 1998, the former Kansas Congressman inspected fields in nearby Slidell. The prolonged drought has withered plants in Texas since 1996.

Despite heavy rains in the spring that saved some farmers' winter wheat crops, what Glickman saw Tuesday near Boyd and the small Wise County town of Cottondale, where he met with about 100 farmers, was "pretty bleak," he said.

Farmers wearing white straw cowboy hats and sitting on old cracked wooden pews at the Cottondale Community Center told Glickman that help couldn't come fast enough.

J.K. "Rooter" Brite of Bowie said farmers and ranchers need money to buy hay for their livestock now. Like others, Brite complained that some past drought relief came too late to do any good.

Without help, area ranchers and farmers "aren't going to be in any shape to come back," Brite said. "We've got to get some common sense into this."

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