“Massive” crop losses feared in U.S. South’s drought

The worst drought in more than 40 years intensified across Texas over the last week, with high winds and heat causing “massive crop losses,” with little relief in sight, according to weather experts Thursday.

A report released Thursday from a consortium of national climate experts, dubbed the Drought Monitor, said drought worsened along the Texas border with Oklahoma, and in western, central and southern Texas.

Ranchers were struggling to feed and water cattle, and farmers were left to watch their crops shrivel into the dusty soil. Some experts estimated that producers were giving up on as much as 70 per cent of the state’s wheat acreage.

“There are some scary things going on in Texas,” said Brian Fuchs, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, which released its weekly drought analysis Thursday morning.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Association said this week that the drought appeared to be the worst since at least 1967.

Lost agricultural production in Texas was estimated to top $3 billion, which compares with $4 billion in losses in 2006 and $3.6 billion in 2009 (all figures US$).

The dramatically lower-than-normal amount of moisture in the soil has caused widespread crop failures, including to the state’s hard red winter wheat crop.

Texas is a key production area for wheat. The losses there and in parts of the U.S. Plains hit by drought will aggravate already short supplies around the world.

“There has been some significant damage to the wheat crop,” said analyst Jerry Gidel of North American Risk Management.

Gidel said that, considering crop problems in Europe and Russia, markets were keeping a close eye on the U.S. wheat crop.

“The focus really is on the U.S. now,” he stressed.

The problems have fuelled a rapid rise in wheat futures, though the recent beneficial rains in some wheat-producing areas have contributed to price declines for three straight trading days.

Also, because Texas is the largest U.S. cattle state, the shrinking herd there could translate into even higher prices for beef in the United States and export markets.

Data issued Thursday by a consortium of national climate experts said 95 per cent of Texas was suffering “severe drought,” or worse, up from 92 per cent a week earlier. More than 70 per cent of the state was in the worse conditions of “extreme drought” or “exceptional drought.” That is up from 68 per cent a week ago in extreme and exceptional drought.

“More problems”

“High temperatures combined with no precipitation and high winds continue to drive widespread wildfires and have led to massive crop losses,” the latest Drought Monitor report stated.

There was a slight alleviation of drought in central and eastern Oklahoma as more than seven inches of rain fell during the past week.

But for farmers farther south, there was no relief in sight.

Forecasters predicted that from May 3 through 7, odds favour warmer-than-normal temperatures along the Gulf Coast from the southwest to the southeast.

Fuchs said the approach of summer and higher heat will only intensify the drought, unless rains come soon.

“If rains don’t develop and help lessen the drought situation before we really get into summer, there are going to be more problems than what we’ve seen right now,” Fuchs said.

The drought in Texas and the Southwest comes at the same time that violent storms are spawning flooding and deadly tornadoes through parts of the Midwest and Southeast.

The excessive rainfall has slowed the planting of corn in the Midwest and could threaten other crops such as soybeans.

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