FARMERS FEAR 'TOTAL DISASTER' IF
RAIN DOESN'T STOP
Web Posted: 07/27/2007
12:19 AM CDT
nourishing rains in March and April were a godsend to South Texas farmers and ranchers after a searing two-year drought drained their hopes and
But the pounding rains of late June and July have covered
lush fields of grain sorghum and hay with impenetrable muck, and crop quality dwindles. In the process, farmers have scaled
back their dreams of a banner year, and some fear they could come out losing again.
"It's pretty devastating," said David Dreibrodt as he
checked his muddy fields north of Seguin. "It's just a total
disaster the way it looks now."
Farther south along the coast, San Patricio County farmer
Bobby Nedbalek worked until about 3 a.m. Tuesday after a dry spell allowed a combine with four-wheel-drive traction to slog
through his sorghum fields. It's leaving his land badly rutted, but it's his only option to salvage what once looked like
the area's best sorghum crop in decades.
"There are a lot of worried farmers and bankers," said
Nedbalek, vice president of the Texas Farm Bureau. "You absolutely are sick to see the best grain crop you've ever had, and
there's too much water in the field to harvest it."
Farmers across South Texas into the Rio Grande Valley share that feeling after
watching rain fall for days just as they were preparing to harvest grain and cut hay.
The National Weather Service has said San Antonio is experiencing its second-wettest July on record with more than 11 inches fallen
so far. New Braunfels has recorded more than 16 inches of rain this month and Corpus Christi more than 17 inches, the weather service said.
The economic loss is impossible
to calculate until the crops are gathered, their quality assessed and the yield measured. But for a nearly $2 billion industry
in South Texas that was hoping to take advantage of rising corn and grain prices, this harvest is likely to instead yield
frustration and pain.
"It almost looked too good to be true," Nedbalek said.
"It's not turning out to be as good as we hoped."
People were hoping for a "home run kind of year" when
the season began, said Harvey Buehring, Texas A&M
University's agricultural extension agent in Nueces County.
"As it is, we're struggling to get around the bases,"
The crops most at risk currently are hay, which had to
be imported from other states during last year's drought, and grain sorghum. Most of the sorghum already would be harvested
in South Texas during normal conditions. The quality of mature hay falls the more it's rained
on, and it can't be baled if conditions are too soggy, officials said.
In addition, some fields of watermelon and cantaloupe
in the Winter Garden area won't be harvested because of flooding, said Marcel Valdez, an A&M extension agent in Zavala County southwest of San Antonio.
While much of the sorghum crop remains to be harvested,
particularly in counties east of San Antonio, it also is developing
quality problems the longer rains fall on fields. Mold and mildew problems arise, and mature kernels sprout when they are
too wet, which significantly reduces their value.
If it has too much sprouting, the sorghum can't be sold
in export markets, said Horace Luensmann, longtime manager of the Producer's Co-op in New
Braunfels. Much of the area's sorghum crop goes to that market, he said.
"If it would quit (raining) now, we would probably be
OK," Luensmann said. "But who knows? We're not in control of that."
Jeff Nunley, executive director of the South Texas Cotton
& Grain Association, said even though sorghum is drawing a good price, crop damage of more than 25 percent would leave
farmers struggling to cover their costs.
And in wetter areas, the damage is "pretty extensive,"
Corn, which boomed in popularity this year because of
price increases, is the next crop ready for harvest, and cotton will come out after that.
Excessive rainfall and standing water deprive crops of
the nitrogen and oxygen they need, said Dennis Hale, Karnes
County's agricultural extension agent. If the torrent does not subside
soon, an excellent year for sorghum and corn production could quickly become average at best.