Gillespie Country facing worsening drought conditions
The National Integrated Drought Information System is reporting that Gillespie County is suffering from a moderate drought.
With relentlessly dry conditions and no substantial rain in the foreseeable future, the agriculture and livestock businesses are beginning to feel far-reaching effects of periods without precipitation.
In 2011, Texas saw the driest 12-month period recorded in the state. Gillespie County’s rainfall totaled 11 inches that year. This year, the county has received 8.49 inches of precipitation as half of the calendar year has passed.
“At this point, the county is experiencing a higher precipitation rate than in 2011,” Hill Country Underground Water Conservation District manager Paul Tybor said.
However, if rain does not fall soon, conditions could get extreme, as local crops are already facing distress from lack of moisture.
According to Gillespie County AgriLife Extension agent Brad Roeder, this year’s agricultural yield will fall in comparison to production in years past.
“Corn and milo crops that were planted early should make it until harvest time. Hay that was planted early should make one cutting as well, if the crop caught precipitation during crucial growth time,” Roeder said. “Hay around the county is not expected to make more than one cutting.”
With extreme lack of rainfall, nitrate poisoning becomes a more prominent issue. As periods of drought slow the rate of photosynthesis, the plant will accumulate nitrates through the soil.
When a plant high in nitrates is consumed by livestock, the excess nitrate will be absorbed into the animal’s blood stream, interrupting the transfer of oxygen. The effects of nitrate poisoning can be seen through lower milk production, breeding problems or nutritional deficiency.
The Gillespie County AgriLife Extension Office will be testing for high levels of nitrates in area crops this week.
Though drought is stressing hay production, the average price-per-bale is dropping due to ranchers selling off portions of their herds, Roeder added.
With fleeting food supplies and absent precipitation, some ranchers sell off portions of their herd for fear of not being able to provide nutrition and water.
Gillespie Livestock Company has seen rises in the number of head of cattle auctioned off in past weeks. On June 6, the market report showed just 978 cattle were sold, while the most recent sale managed 1644 head of cattle.
As ranchers are hard pressed for water, Gillespie County wells are reporting decreases in water level. According to the Texas Water Development Board’s water data, one of three wells in service to Fredericksburg was recorded at 93.44 feet below ground level on June 29, 2011.
The June 29, 2018 report for the same well revealed it was 91.09 feet below surface; putting recent recordings just 2.43 feet from the well’s status in the drought of 2011. The well’s average status resides at 68.72 feet below ground level.
Though overall conditions of the two years are not comparable yet, lack of rainfall could push circumstances parallel to one another.
With water becoming scarce, livestock herd numbers dwindling and crops at risk of failure, precipitation is needed more than ever to restore balance to the agriculture and livestock industries.
For more information about nitrate testing in Gillespie County, call Roeder at 830-997-3452.