No relief in sight from drought-like conditions

Thursday, September 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Crops need it. Farmers are begging for it. Gov. Frank Keating has even asked Oklahomans to pray for it.

As cooler temperatures make life more comfortable for many Oklahomans, a continued lack of rain continues to weigh on the minds of farmers and ranchers.

Coweta farmer David Hermesch said even the sprinkling of rain he got this week did more harm than good.

The moisture on the plants acts like a magnifying glass and intensified the sun's rays "causing the plants to burn faster,"

he explained.

Hermesch said he stands to lose $127,000 because most of his 850-acre soybean crop died in recent heat. Fields that should have produced up to 30 bushels of soybeans per acre now will produce less than 10 bushels, he said.

All of Oklahoma is feeling the effects of the driest August seen in Oklahoma since weather records were first kept here in 1892, said Howard Johnson, associate state climatologist.

And as winter wheat farmers consider postponing planting because of unworkable soil conditions, that can start a negative cycle in the cattle industry, said Charles Freeman, Oklahoma Department of Agriculture deputy commissioner.

"We need to see rain real, real quick to see prospects for fall grazing," Freeman said.

Without grazing land, ranchers will deplete their hay reserves and be forced to buy hay to feed their livestock, Freeman said.

Those farmers not able to replenish their hay supplies may be forced to sell their herds, which would bring down the price of cattle and eventually flood retailers with beef, he said.

Freeman said as that happens, beef prices initially would plummet, hurting the state's agricultural economy. But later consumers would be forced to pay higher prices when a beef shortage, caused by depleted cattle herds, hits the market.

To fight the problem, the Department of Agriculture has set up a Hay Hotline for farmers requesting to buy or sell hay. Farmers may call the hotline at (800) 580-6543 during business hours Monday through Friday.

"While some farmers in Oklahoma are in need of hay, some areas of the state received early spring rains and produced a good hay crop," said Dennis Howard, Oklahoma commissioner of agriculture.

But even two inches of rain may prove to be elusive for much of Oklahoma.

"It looks like it will be dry for as far out as we can see.

There is no mentionable chance of rain" for the next five to six days, said meteorologist Dan Spaeth of the National Weather Service in Tulsa.

On Wednesday, Keating wrote Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman asking for disaster designations for 70 additional counties. Seven of the state's 77 counties already have received disaster designation.

Keating said excessive hot and dry conditions statewide have accelerated damage to such crops as corn, cotton, hay, grain, sorghum, peanuts and soybeans.

Weather across Oklahoma has cooled noticeably over the last two days. Oklahoma City reached only 93 on Wednesday, a second straight day of double-digit highs after 17 straight days above 100 degrees.

Most other cities across Oklahoma also stayed below the 100-degree mark Wednesday.