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Drought forces Oklahoma agriculture producers to ponder hard choices

by Bryan Painter Published: August 19, 2012

In addition, El Reno had seen 31 days above 100 degrees and 65 days above 90 degrees as of Friday.

And don't forget what occurred before that. With only 18.5 inches falling from Oct. 1, 2010, to Sept. 30, 2011, the precipitation recorded at El Reno was 16.4 inches below normal, according to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. Going across the pasture, Fred pointed down and said, “Two years ago that pond was full. Now, it doesn't hardly even look like a pond it's got so much vegetation.”

“This is life-changing, not just mind-boggling,” Fred said.

Rain followed by rain

If Fred didn't have a small feedlot on the family's farm, his situation would be even worse right now, he said.

But the cost of feeding those cattle in confinement continues to rise.

At the peak of the cost last year, he was paying $280 a ton on commodities like soy hulls, dry distillers grain and the like.

“This year, the same commodities are at $330 (per ton) right now,” Fred said. “The drought intensity has increased, but also the drought area has increased in the United States.

“That puts more pressure on our commodity prices and our hay prices.”

There was a little break between the two droughts, he said. But the rains weren't enough to bring runoff into the ponds. And the part of his wheat that he baled for hay he hoped would last for two years. Now he expects it'll be a stretch to last for little more than a year.

Fred and his wife, Becky, have two children and three grandchildren. Looking across the empty pasture, he said, “I've done this all my life. I'm 60 years old.”

This is his livelihood. And he's not willing to give it up, at least not easily.

“If the time comes, we'll make the hard decisions,” he said, “but for now, we'll just wait for rains followed by more rains.

“It'll take several to get us out of this, I imagine. So, we'll hope and we'll pray.”

by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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