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Long Drought Affects Farmers in Southwestern US


Parts of the southwestern American states of Texas and Oklahoma have experienced severe dry weather for several years. This drought has affected the growth of cotton and grains. The governor of Oklahoma says the state has suffered two billion dollars in agricultural losses since 2011. Some heavy rain fell recently, but for most farmers it did not come soon enough.

Matt Muller is a farmer in southwestern Oklahoma.

“We were doing very well farming until about 2010, the fall of 2010 (when) it basically stopped raining, and for the past four years we've been in continuous drought.”

Mr. Muller was hopeful earlier in the year. Spring was cool and wet, and summer came early. But that hope went away when the rains did not come.

“Things looked phenomenal because of the mild weather and the showers we were able to catch, but then August 1st, it's like a blowtorch showed up.”

High temperatures and lack of rain meant most crops did not grow. But that was not the case with mung beans. Mr. Muller says that crop did well because it can grow even when there is not much rain.

“When it started rain(ing), we jumped in and tried that crop and it was able to beat the heat of August and finish out and make a decent crop before it burned up in August.”

Those kinds of crops help farmers survive. Irrigation can also help farms. Irrigation systems use water from underground when there is not enough rain. But crops like cotton are more valuable than mung beans, and it is those kinds of crops that are being hurt by the drought.

Clint Abernathy is a cotton farmer. He has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for machines to help him harvest his crop. He says he has not grown as much cotton in the past few years as he predicted.

“This year we did have enough rain in June and July to, to grow a crop that, that looks better -- it's, it's and it is better -- but this is ground that we normally would want to make three-bale-an-acre-plus on, and right now we're looking at probably a half to three-quarter (of a bale) cotton crop.”

Mr. Abernathy says before drought struck the area, he grew much bigger plants, and each had more cotton on them.

“This is a stressed plant that did not produce what, what it had the potential to do.”

He says insurance has helped provide money when his crops fail. But he says what farmers really need is more water and better prices for what they grow.

“Even with crop insurance we're still, we're goin' downhill, you know. Our, our insurance yields just keep goin' down every year. Prices of commodities -- all commodities except livestock -- they just keep goin' down.”

Livestock prices dropped a few years ago. That is when the drought forced many ranchers to sell their livestock. But few farmers in the area have anything left to sell now, and that hurts the local economy. So farmers in southwestern Oklahoma are doing what farmers throughout the world have done for centuries: they are hoping for a better year, next year.

I’m Caty Weaver.

This story was reported by VOA correspondent Greg Flakus. It was written for Learning English and produced by Christopher Cruise. Caty Weaver edited it. _____________________________________________________________

Words in This Story

drought – n. a long period of time during which there is very little or no rain

agriculture – n. farming

crops – n. plants that are grown and gathered, such as grains, fruits and vegetables

insurance – n. an agreement in which a person makes regular payments to a company and the company promises to pay money if the person is injured or dies, or to pay money equal to the value of something (such as a house or car) if it is damaged, lost, or stolen

economy – n. the system by which money, industry and trade are organized

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