Oklahoma Ranchers Take Big Hit As Drought Continues

Tuesday, July 12th 2011, 4:55 pm
By: News On 6

Craig Day, News On 6

OSAGE COUNTY, Oklahoma -- Our drought conditions are hitting Oklahoma's agriculture industry hard. A poor wheat crop and dried out ponds are forcing ranchers to sell off some of their cattle.

Ranchers in Osage County say it's one of the worst years they've seen in half a century.

Walk a little while in Jerry Lemmons boots, and you'll learn why he always keeps an eye to the sky for rain.

"Every time, the rain will go north and it will split down there and go north of us and south of us," Lemmons, an Osage County rancher, said.

Lemmons' River Bend Ranch near Cleveland has had less than an inch of rain since spring. Like many Oklahoma ranchers, his pastures are turning brown right before his eyes.

"Should be nice and green and the whole pastures are usually knee deep in Bermuda grass," he said.

In 50 years in the cattle business, this is one of the driest years he's seen. With hardly any grass, little water, and no rain in sight, he's selling off much of his herd.

Hay is hard to come by and feed prices are skyrocketing, so many Oklahoma ranchers have no choice but to sell off cattle, as they hope for rain.

"It's just like wintertime, it just crunches, it's dry and there's no greenness to it," Lemmons said.

The only positive right now is the price of cattle is high. But, how long that's going to last is anyone's guess. If ranchers are forced to continue selling off their herds, that could flood the market with beef, and prices could go down.

Lemmons compares this year to 1980's record setting heat wave. But in many respects, this year is worse. It got hot and dry, much earlier.

"If we could get some rain right away and get some green grass growing, it may look a whole lot different, but right now it looks real bleak," he said.

Lemmons is trying to hang on to his better keepers for the future. But like many Oklahoma ranchers, he won't be able to if the lack of rain goes on much longer.

With fewer hay cuttings this year, many ranchers will likely have to get hay shipped in from other parts of the country.

But, in many cases, that's too expensive. The high price of diesel makes it even worse.