Things are bad in Texas. On Tuesday, a forage expert from the Texas AgriLife Extension was quoted, “It’s a ‘no-brainer;’ sell out herds now.” Larry Redmon was referring to beef operations, but the drought has brought the dairy industry its own set of challenges.
A drought in Texas isn’t unusual, but this year’s drought is unprecedented, says Darren Turley, chief executive director with the Texas Dairyman’s Association. “In previous years, pockets of the state would be affected. This year, it’s the entire state.”
If you look back at 100 years of moisture levels, January 2011 until now is the driest period ever recorded. “The early to mid-50’s is the only time that comes close to being this dry, and they had 2-inches more of moisture,” explains Kevin Lager, extension associate with the Texas AgriLife Extension. “It’s going to take a lot of rain to catch up.”
But, regardless of whether the rain comes or not, Lager feels that in many cases the corn crop can't be saved. This doesn’t bode well because finding quality forage is already a trick and prices keep going up. Corn silage is non-existent in some areas, and hay is coming into the state from as far away as Canada.
Turley estimates that alfalfa hay is going for $320 per ton (not good quality) and grass hay is around $220 per ton.
If the state did happen to get some moisture, Lager feels it’s too late."Some abandoned corn fields are being harvested for silage," says Lager. He explains that "abandoned" means that the farmer cannot apply enough irrigation water to keep up with the corn plant's water demands and instead will apply the available water to an alternate lower water use crop or try to maintain a portion of the irrigated acres. "The abandoned corn fields have not produced an ear and will have variable nutrient values, which will make it a challenge to feed. There are some fields that will produce an ear; however, their nutrient values at harvest may be impacted as well," he says.
On Wednesday, the Texas AgriLife Extension reported that the drought has led to a record $5.2 billion in agricultural losses. With no rainfall on the horizon, losses are expected to increase.