Persistent Drought Threatening Livelihoods Of Oklahoma Ranchers, Farmers

Thursday, December 6th 2012, 5:36 pm
By: Craig Day

More than 90 percent of the state remains in the extreme or exceptional drought categories.

Just this year alone, it's meant hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue for Oklahoma and with very little rain - or none at all in most places - it's getting even worse.

Like many Oklahoma ranchers, Robert Foresman watches every weather forecast, watches the sky, and watches as his ponds get lower and lower.

He said his pond, which would normally be about 12 feet deep is now only about 6 inches deep.

What makes it even harder is there's not a whole lot he can do about it.

"Biggest fear, we'll just have to get rid of them," Foresman said.

The year hasn't been kind and Foreman's ponds show it. Statistics reinforce it.

The September through November 2012 period was the second driest for those months in Oklahoma since 1895. And October through now has been the fourth driest since 1921.

"With no rain at all this fall, and going into winter, that's got these guys very, very worried," said Ron Hays.

A well known agricultural broadcaster, heard on 44 stations on the Radio Oklahoma Network, Hays said farmers and ranchers are hurting.

"We've got a lot of folks having to make very hard decisions about their cattle herds—are they going to keep cattle, try to hold on to at least a few head of cattle?" Hays said.

One of those is Perry rancher Doug Hentges, who is attending the Tulsa Farm Show and fears he won't be able to hold on much longer.

"It's virtually almost desert conditions. We've jokingly laughed that we've moved to Arizona," Hentges said.

A new report by Oklahoma State researchers show Oklahoma agriculture has had $426 million in losses this year, due to drought.

In most of Oklahoma, it's now been nearly a month since we've seen even one tenth of an inch of rain on any given day.

In some western parts of the state, it's been 70 straight days.

"Just not enough," Hays said.

Foresman said he fears, if things don't improve soon and 2013 isn't much better, many people will be forced to get out of a profession that's both a livelihood and a lifestyle they love.

In addition to the economic impact this year, Oklahoma's actually been under extreme drought conditions for two years running.

The OSU study shows it's had a $2 billion impact on farmers and ranchers over those two years.