Articles, Blog

Drought Busting Rains Affect Agriculture

August 24, 2019

Rob McClendon: Well, no one has welcomed these
rains any more than our state’s farmers. Our Austin Moore traveled to far western Oklahoma,
where farmers and ranchers have been suffering through years of drought, but not anymore.
Monte Tucker: I’m over 18 inches since the first of April. That’s more rain than I have
had in the last three years combined. Austin Moore: After five years of drought,
Roger Mills County rancher Monte Tucker says this rain is healing old wounds.
Tucker: I’ve seen things that I don’t ever want to see again. Standing right behind me
here in this background, a year ago was blowing sand drifts. And this is how it’s recovered.
It’s just amazing this land will recover like it does when it gets moisture. Our buffalo
grasses we thought were gone. Some of my grandmother’s pastures a year and half ago looked like the
surface of Mars. Austin: This rain allows Tucker to pull cattle
completely out of some fields so they can sit idle and heal.
Tucker: It’s, it’s a well-deserved rest for these pastures. We’ve asked a lot of ’em in
the last four years so we’re gonna pull off, we’re gonna rotate again. We’re back into
a normal pattern of rotation, bringing stockers in to, uh, to utilize extra forage. And it’s,
it’s really nice to have options instead of being forced into a decision like we were
’11, ’12, ’13. Austin: Of course, rain does bring a handful
of complications, though you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone ready to complain about the
moisture. Tucker is on the lookout for foot-rot in his herd. Wheat harvest is being delayed,
and wheat hay is progressing too far as farmers wait for things to dry out. Custom bailer
Mark Browning explains. Mark Browning: Everybody is waiting till after
the rain before they start swathing, and then now the rains have hit, and they’re not letting
go, and everything is turned to grain. So there’s not gonna be any really nice wheat
hay in this part of the country. Austin: And for Brandon Hickey, owner of the
Elk City Livestock Auction, the rain reminds him of lessons learned from an older generation.
Brandon Hickey: You know, I had an old-timer tell me when we was just really getting into
the heart of this drought, we knew we were sure enough in trouble, we was sure enough
in a, in a doozy of a drought, and this guy he had been through the 1930s drought and
the 1950s drought, and he told me that you’ll know when the drought’s over because you’ll
get more rain than you want. You’ll be sick of the rain before it stops. Now, out at my
ranch, I’m a long ways from that yet. But here at this sale barn I may be getting real
close. Austin: Fridays are sale days – a time when
employees work to keep cattle flowing through the ring as quickly as possible usually.
Hickey: You know, Thursdays and Fridays is somewhat frustrating around here right now
because they’re getting their exercise. You know, they’re trudging through some pretty
deep mud at times, but, but, you know, I’ve got a really good crew. They know how to handle
cattle, handle ’em as quick as we can without being dangerous to the cattle. It’s not too
hard to handle them slow in these pens right now because you can’t go very fast in them.
Austin: Yet these inconveniences are something no one here is in any hurry to complain about.
Hickey: I mean, everybody’s still cautious, you know, not totally convinced that we’re
out of the woods, but it just, you know, you, you step lighter, your heart is lighter, you
know, everybody smiles a little bit more. Browning: They’ll take it, take the rain,
they don’t care if they lose a crop, they’re ready to, they’re ready for the rain.
Tucker: When the lakes are full, our streams are running, we’re getting stuck and pulling
each other out, I’m not going to call calf-rope for a long time. 2011 will stick in my memory
for a long time. Rob: Well, Austin, we’ve both covered agriculture
for longer than I’m gonna admit to. In general is the mood out there significantly different
now than it was just a couple years ago? Austin: Massively. In fact, at the Elk City
Livestock Auction where I’ve shot a number of times, I’ve never seen it this fun. People
were joking back and forth with the auctioneer and calling him out on stuff. It was a lot
of fun to be out there. Everyone’s in a great mood.
Rob: Yeah, funny what a little bit of rain will do. So I do want to ask you about what
one of your interviews said, I mean, talking about how the wheat crop – probably not gonna
be able to cut it and use it for hay, and it was gonna go to grain, and that was gonna
be a problem for him. In general, how is Oklahoma’s wheat crop doing?
Austin: Well, in general, it’s not a real pretty picture right now. We needed the rain,
and in fact, we have parts of our state, especially in the northwest that would have a crop if
we hadn’t had some cool temperatures, some cloudy days and a lot of rain. We got that,
and so we’re better off there, but as a whole we’ve had it too much. At this point, we’re
looking at delaying harvest and getting some sprout in at some point. So you’re looking
at a reduction. Estimates are around 20 percent loss in, in yields.
Rob: So, Austin, you’ve given us a really good snapshot of some of the challenges that
they’re facing right now, but let’s talk big picture. What does this latest rain, what
does it mean for Oklahoma’s agriculture industry, not just going forward in the next coming
weeks, but in the coming years? Austin: Well, it’s a great rain. It gives
people hope. It gives ’em opportunity. It lets them plan a little bit for the future.
But we can’t forget that we had some real big costs with this drought. Probably the
biggest thing is the loss of generational knowledge. We had a lot of folks in their
60s, 70s, into their 80s, that would have still been doing this for a while – now they’ve
dropped out. They had to sell out of cattle. They weren’t able to, you know, take on the
loans for the expectation they could get more. And so now we have those folks who have all
that knowledge you’d like to pull on, they’re simply gone.
Rob: Well, certainly an important story that’s important to a lot of communities around the
state. Thank you so much, Austin. Austin: You’re welcome, Rob.
Rob: Now, if you are feeling a little waterlogged, we do have a bit of a change of pace later
in our show when we meet a mechanical virtuoso.

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