Praying For Rain

By Jeff Nunley
Victoria, Texas

You’re in the middle of a 20-year drought, deal with it! Those were the first words of the keynote speaker at our Victoria Farm & Ranch Show a few years ago.

It was my good fortune to be the master of ceremonies responsible for providing a wrapup that put a positive spin on a presentation that started with a slap in the face and went downhill from there. As the crowd of about 300 people sat in stunned silence at the conclusion of the keynote speech, I tried to lighten the mood.

“Well, at least we held the luncheon on the ground floor so that everyone didn’t rush to hurl themselves from a window after all the good news we heard today,” I said. Of all things, that was the quote that made our local paper.

I can’t help glancing out my window today feeling like I’m in a similar situation as I try to put a positive spin on things in south Texas. To be honest, there have been a few bright spots over the past couple of years. For example, 2011 was a pretty good year for producers in the Coastal Bend and 2012 saw record cotton production for farmers in the Upper Gulf Coast. This year also marks the first season since 1892 that the area known as the South Texas Winter Garden Zone has not captured a single boll weevil.

Over the last few years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I wish you would make it rain!” as producers have struggled with a drought that has wreaked havoc in south Texas. I do not know anyone who has figured out how to make it rain when we need it. What I do know is that our industry continues to work on ways to help producers “deal with it” when it comes to weather adversity.

In a My Turn column earlier this year, Woody Anderson did an excellent job explaining the value of crop insurance. I can only reiterate that crop insurance has been the single most important factor keeping producers in our area viable during the drought these past few years. Unfortunately, as we are beginning to realize in south Texas, multiple year losses erode crop insurance benefits as average yield guarantees decline and risk premiums rise. Crop insurance also does a poor job of providing support for infrastructure in our rural communities.

While crop insurance is the most immediate and obvious tool available to help our producers deal with drought, I am optimistic that technology improvements in the form of drought-tolerant varieties can help mitigate drought losses in the future. Will these technologies be in place to help us during our current drought? Probably not, but it would sure be nice to produce something during these dry years to support our cotton gins, warehouses, oil mills and producer associations, which all rely on production to survive.

As I write this, the Farm Bill process is still underway. We can all hope that our friends in Washing-ton prevail this fall and complete work on a bill that provides sound agriculture policy for our country. A key component for our producers will be the continuation, and even enhancement, of crop insurance that allows full-time, commercial sized farmers to fully participate and benefit from these programs.

So you are probably wondering, “Where’s the positive spin?”

I guess we can take some solace in the fact that the keynote speech at the beginning of my story occurred a few years ago, and that we were supposed to be in the middle of a drought, not the beginning. Our producers have faced the worst drought in our region’s history, and they have proven they can “deal with it.” Perhaps we are about to put this drought in the record books and move on. I know I’m certainly ready.

Well, what do you know? As I look out the window again, clouds have built up, and it’s starting to rain.

– Jeff Nunley, Victoria, Texas.
South Texas Cotton & Grain Association
jnunley@stcga.org

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