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What Texas farmers and ranchers are tracking as heat, drought continues

Editor’s Note: The video above shows KXAN Live’s top headlines for Aug. 7, 2023

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Central Texas continues its record-setting streak of consecutive days with triple-digit temperatures, and just set a record for the hottest July on record, the farming and ranching communities are looking ahead with some concern.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts said plants and vegetation are experiencing heat stress with extreme temperatures during the daytime and nighttime.

Cattle are also being impacted with cows consuming less as they look for shade to escape the heat. The transcript of

Texas A&M Associate Professor Josh McGinty talked with KXAN’s Tom Miller for an in-depth conversation about the impact of the Texas weather.

The transcript of the conversation has been edited for clarity.

Q&A with Texas A&M professor

Tom Miller: We’ve been in this unrelenting heat for more than a month now, how is this impacting our farmers and our ranchers?

Josh McGinty: Everybody’s feeling the heat. We’re losing yield potential in our crops. We’re losing forage for cattle, and it’s happening faster than it usually does this time of year just because of the extreme heat on top of the typical summer drought.

Miller: Are there some crops that like this heat, that do well in the arid conditions, compared to others that don’t?

McGinty: There’s not really a crop that does better under drought than others. They all need water. The important thing is that crops need water at certain times, depending on the species. So our grain crops have already more or less made a crop earlier in the year before the drought and the heat setting [in], so they’re safe at this point. Our later crops like soybean, and cotton is the big one in Texas… they’re in need of a lot of water right now. They’re the ones that are suffering the most.

Miller: Are farmers and ranchers prepared for this? And are there things that they can do to offset these conditions?

McGinty: On the livestock side, when we have good growing conditions, producers produce and buy hay and stockpile that forage for when they don’t have it in their pastures and in the range lands. So they’ve already done that as much as they can, given the drought we just came out of. On the row crop side, there’s not much you can do. We plan as early as we can, so that we can try to avoid the summer drought, if possible. But you can’t plant too early. It all depends on temperatures in the spring and late winter. So there’s not much we can do there. We’ll just deal with the hand that we’re dealt.

Miller: Just how concerned are ranchers and farmers that this drought is not going to relent anytime soon?

McGinty: They’re very used to drought. Drought is the normal mode of operation in Texas, I’d say more than having a surplus of moisture. So we’re used to drought. The killer is when we have prolonged drought or year-on-year drought. If we get some fall moisture, that’ll set us up for next year. That’ll set up our livestock producers for the fall. It’s just a matter of how long it lasts. If it breaks soon, we’ll be fine. Some short-term pains that come with that, but long term we’d be OK.

Miller: At what point do we get into the trouble area where the drought is too long to really sustain the farmers and ranchers?

McGinty: If we don’t get good, late summer through fall moisture, that’s a trouble sign. Typically we recharge the soil profile in the fall. We have a lot of rain in September on average. If we don’t get that, then we’re in big trouble next spring because we don’t have subsoil moisture for our crops. We don’t have subsoil moisture to allow our pastures and rangelands to produce grass for cattle. So really depends on what happens this fall. We’ll all be watching that.

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