Oklahoma farmers hoping patchy rains keep coming

7/9/2014 12:15 PM
By Associated Press

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Some Oklahoma farmers are hoping that patchy rains during the first part of summer will make a dent in the drought afflicting much of the state and help save crops and cattle, though the outlook for much of the state is still raising concerns.

The farmers concede that conditions could change quickly, as they did last year when Oklahoma settled back into the oppressive heat of the summer months. Crops wilted and hay shortages were prevalent across a large swath of the state.

Spring rains fired up across parts of the state in May and June, but the U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook for July suggests that drought will persist or intensify across the southern half of the state and into the Panhandle. Drought development is also indicated across southeastern Oklahoma, according to the outlook.

"There's a worry for some parts of the state that didn't get that rainfall," said Gary McManus, Oklahoma state climatologist. "But now that we're in the dog days of summer, now we start to see the heat really ramp up, especially in those places where they didn't get appreciable rainfall."

McManus said one area of concern is the southern part of Oklahoma, where he said the drought is building.

"Right now, we just have to wait and see what the rainfall's going to be in the summer," he said. "There's a danger of drought intensification in the next couple of months."

Tim Bartram, the executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Growers Association in Guthrie, said there is "cautious optimism" among some farmers and ranchers that there will be enough rain — however spotty — to save crops and livestock.

Still, if the periodic rains dry up, things can change "in a heartbeat," Bartram conceded. Without rain, Bartram says, farmers and ranchers will relive the conditions of 2013, which led to the wheat harvest being slashed in half — from 120 million bushels to 60 million bushels or less.

"We need a lot of rain to get us through the summer, or it's going to get bad and we are going back to what we knew — 110 degrees, winds out of the southwest," Bartram said.

Billy Gibson, one of the farmers in the parched southeastern part of the state, has already sized up this season: "I think it's going to get bad."

"The big concern is if it don't rain, we won't have a hay crop," said the Ada farmer. "We have a short hay crop (already), so we need a second cutting to get us through."

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