Great Texas Drought of 2011 Was the Costliest Ever

It was clear when A&M's livestock economist said the drought had an agricultural toll of $5.2 billion back in August -- which didn't even really mark the nadir of the heatwave -- that we hadn't seen the worst this drought could do.

Now we know: $7.62 billion in agricultural losses ... in a single year.

"No one alive has seen single-year drought damage to this extent," says AgriLife Extension agronomist and member of the Governor's Drought Preparedness Council Dr. Travis Miller in the latest accounting."Texas farmers and ranchers are not strangers to drought, but the intensity of the drought, reflected in record high temperatures, record low precipitation, unprecedented winds coupled with duration -- all came together to devastate production agriculture."

Back in August and September, we took a tour of Texas cattle country and saw firsthand ranchers living on a knife's edge. Even their fathers had never experienced this kind of searing heat combined with record drought. Last summer was a veritable pasture-killer.

And it wasn't just cattlemen hurting. There was no hay crop to speak of. They had to send for it out of state because whole crops here failed to a tune of $750 million. In the Panhandle, for example, 55 percent of cotton-raising acreage was abandoned -- a historic high.

Sorghum, wheat, and corn growers all experienced losses of up to $1.5 billion. We've never seen 2011's like, and may we never again. But most old ranchers who've lived through a handful of dry times know better than that.

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Brantley Hargrove

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