San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

July 21st, 2011
Drought has Hays County farmers fighting for survival

It’s business as usual for local farmers as a field of corn is cut, threshed and cleaned by a combine harvester on Goforth Road near Lehman High School. Already in dire straights, farmers are facing even harsher water reductions as Stage III restrictions loom. The eight months from Oct. 2010 through May 2011 will go down in the record books as the driest eight-month period since 1895. PHOTO by WES FERGUSON


Farmers in and near Hays County are harvesting a meager, drought-scorched crop of corn this month, and they’re praying against the odds that rain will come and save the area’s other cash crop, cotton.

“The cotton needs a drink as soon as possible, which looks doubtful,” said J.P. Jansen, a farmer from Kyle.

“We’re in a bind,” added Rex Wiegand of Uhland.

The spring and summer have been dry, but July has been bone-dry, with just a trace of rain falling so far this month. Not quite eight inches of rainfall have been recorded this year, compared to 18.9 inches in an average year through mid-July.

“Conditions are not improving, so we’re just getting deeper and deeper into a rainfall deficit,” said Brian Hunt, a senior hydrogeologist for the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District.

Barring the unlikely event of a tropical storm, the aquifer district is predicting the implementation of Stage III Alarm drought restrictions in September.

“We’re not expecting to have any significant rainfall between now and then, so it’s not looking good,” he said.

Stage III triggers a mandatory 30 percent reduction in water use. Very few farmers hold permits to use aquifer water.

Jansen, 32, and his father Jim planted about 800 acres of corn and 1,500 acres of cotton this spring. Jansen was expecting to finish harvesting the corn this week.

“Corn is probably making about 20 percent of what we made last year,” he said.

With such a dry spring, Jansen decided to plant more drought-resistant milo sorghum than usual. His 350 acres yielded well, and the market is strong. He also held off on planting the cotton until late May, about a month and a half later than usual.

“We got a timely rain in the middle of May and another at the end of June, so we went ahead and spent a bunch of money trying to make the cotton crop,” Jansen said. “It could be a really, really good crop, but with the ongoing drought it looks very unlikely.”

The bugs are not a problem this summer. In the absence of rain clouds, that is about the only silver lining.

“I think I played my cotton right,” Jansen said. “It’s just the beast of being a dryland farmer in Central Texas.”

WES FERGUSON reports for the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.

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