Texas, well known for its cattle industry, faced a severe crisis in 2022 and 2023 as a relentless drought season entered the region.
This prolonged period of low rainfall had a deep impact on various sectors, with the cattle industry seeing the largest losses. Cattle operations grappled with unprecedented challenges, forcing ranchers and farmers to decrease the scale of their operations. So what does the future look like? As we are closing in on 2023, the latest report from US Drought Monitor still shows the central, eastern, and western pains to be under extreme and exceptional drought.
Prolonged periods of low precipitation and high temperatures will inevitably lead to drought conditions. The past two years have been challenging for farmers and cattle ranch owners. The tropical storm Harold in August 2023 brought a bit of relief along the coastal areas but it was not enough to combat the increased average temperatures. Texas recorded an average 4-8 degree temperature increase this year making it one of the hottest and driest summers on record.
Water Scarcity Causes Forage Depletion and a Decline in Pasture Quality
The lack of water resources and access to natural water sources, such as rivers, lakes, and ponds left ranchers struggling. Low-quality hay, overgrazing, and low forage options will eventually affect pregnancy rates and production. The drought directly affects cattle operations leaving ranchers with tough decisions to make. As water sources dwindled and pastures deteriorated, the costs continued to rise. Ranchers were forced into investing in alternative feed options, always resulting in additional expenses.
There are many methods that experienced beef cattle ranchers implement in order to deal with drought. 22-23 were not the first years when Texas faced the harshest drought conditions. We’re still in a much better position now than in 2011.
Culling or the reduction in herd size is a way to deal with drought. This usually refers to old and low-producing cows and it provides more feed for younger, more productive cows.
The continued investment in more efficient irrigation systems allowed many cattle ranch operators to continue business as usual, making the most of the resources available to them.
In September Governor Abbott Renewed Drought Disaster Declaration with many counties listed in the document. The Texas Division of Emergency Management has confirmed that those same drought conditions continue to exist in the affected areas.
Looking into Next Year
Since 2023 is now officially considered an El Niño we should be expecting cooler and wetter winter. It is expected that we will see wetter than average conditions across Texas through Feb. 2024, resulting in a significant drought conditions improvement at the beginning of the year. Since the last 2 years have been plagued by elevated fire weather, a wetter-than-average season would mean fewer destructive wildfires in the upcoming year.
The drought of 2022-2023 left a mark on cattle operations in Texas, but as the story continues, there is more positive news when looking at the next few months. We should be seeing improvements in the water levels and the conditions coming into early spring should be a lot more favorable.
It’s very clear that due to the global climate changes Texas and other southern states will continue to grapple with unpredictable weather patterns. This emphasizes the importance of better resource management in the upcoming decades. For those looking to improve their cattle operations, purchasing a ranch with reliable natural water sources can bring a piece of mind.