climate change for ranchers

posted August 18, 2011

A tale of two droughts
By JIM FRENCH in the Kansas City Star

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The telephone rang at 6:30 a.m. It was my wife. Her first sentence: “We had 24-hundredths of an inch of rain last night.” I relished every word as if they were drops slowly soaking into parched earth.

For the previous two days I had been moving our cattle to another paddock where there might just be enough grass to graze for one more week. The temperature had been 106 degrees yesterday, and 106 the day before. The water jug was never far out of sight, and breaks in the shade came often.

There have been almost 30 days over 100 degrees in southern Kansas since early June and the forecast for the next week showed little change until a “cool” front might drop the mercury to a breezy 97.

The extreme drought has taken its toll on the region’s agriculture. Much of the rain-fed corn from the southern and western third of the state has been abandoned, baled, or chopped for feed. There has been almost no alfalfa production; the winter wheat crop yields in June were well below average. Many ranchers have been early weaning spring calves, as well as culling cows. Farther south in Oklahoma and Texas where the drought has been even more severe, whole herds have been sold.

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