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Drought forces Oklahoma agriculture producers to ponder hard choices

by Bryan Painter Published: August 19, 2012

— It sounded like toothpicks being snapped. One after another.

As Fred Reuter talked about the effects of drought on his farm west of El Reno, he kept breaking twigs off a dead weed that stood about hip high.

He did so without really thinking about it at first.

The 60-year-old producer lives in Canadian County, which the U.S. Drought Monitor lists among Oklahoma counties experiencing exceptional drought, the worst of category.

Finding dead vegetation, unfortunately, isn't much of a chore in many areas of Oklahoma.

However, Fred was standing in the bottom of an 18-foot-deep pond. Instead of water, it's filled with weeds and a few grasshoppers.

“Think about this, when this pond went dry, these weeds weren't here,” he said, and then snapped another twig. “So, this weed's had enough time to grow about 3 feet tall, die and dry. That's how long it's been dry. We have three ponds on this place and we haven't been able to run cattle on it for two years with no water. All we have in these three is a 10-foot puddle in part of one of them.”

His story is shared by so many. Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor report showed all of Oklahoma in a severe to exceptional drought. The report also showed 46 percent of the contiguous U.S. falls within the severe to exceptional categories.

Fred's the third of four generations to have been born and raised in central Oklahoma. It's one thing for him to say he's seeing things of frightful proportions for the first time. But it really scares him when his father, Wayne Reuter, makes statements along those lines.

“There's a creek just over here that's run year-round ever since I can remember,” the 85-year-old said. “It's dry, hasn't run in over a year now.”

More than numbers

The Oklahoma Mesonet station for El Reno is located at Fort Reno, a little less than 10 miles from Fred's farm. From April 1 to Thursday, that site had received 8.2 inches of rain. That is 8 inches below normal.

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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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