Farmer: More rain needed to beat drought

CNJ staff photo: Benna Sayyed Curry County Commissioner Frank Blackburn, who farms 6,000 acres five miles west of Clovis in the Ranchvale community, checks on his beef cattle. He purchased these calves in September 2011.

Benna Sayyed

Local farmers say recent precipitation in the area has helped their crops a little but much more is needed to alleviate the drought.

According to Ed Polasko, service hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, precipitation levels (rain and melted snow) during October, November, and December 2011 were up slightly from 2010.

Polasko said that the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center at Clovis recorded 1.22 inches in October, .08 inches in November, and 1.72 inches in December in 2011. The year before, .87 inches were recorded in October, .30 inches in November, and .03 inches in December.

Frank Blackburn, a Curry County commissioner who farms 6,000 acres in the Ranchvale community, said Clovis averages about 17.5 inches of rain per year. He said Clovis has had 7.05 inches in 2011.

“We’re not out of the drought yet. We’re behind but for the present time it looks good,” Blackburn said.

“I’ve been digging these post holes and the moisture goes down about a foot. From there on down it’s just like concrete. All the soil should be wet all the way down and it’s not. So that last rain we got is just a temporary relief,” Blackburn said.

“The best rain of the year was that one we got two weeks ago, that rain and snow deal. That was all right. Them other rains were small and the next day the hot winds just evaporate that stuff.”

Blackburn’s farm produces wheat, milo and beef cattle.

Blackburn said the cattle he purchased in September did not have a pasture to graze from because of the drought. He has had to feed calves with milo hay produced on his farm and has had to buy a lot of feed.

He is nearly out of milo.

According to Blackburn, the recent inch of rain the area received two weeks ago greened his wheat pasture providing his calves food. He said the inch of rain provided a start but the area needs more rain for his upcoming crops to flourish.

According to Blackburn, Curry County farmers produce an average of between 15 to 18 bushel of dryland wheat per acre every year if rainfall is average; 40 bushel can be produced if rainfall is heavier than normal.

In 2011, Blackburn’s farm produced no more than three bushels per acre; so little that some was not harvested.

Soil in a flatland area such as Clovis stores moisture and Blackburn has hopes for the next growing season.

“I’m real optimistic; I think the rain is going to happen again at anytime. I hope we broke that dry cycle.”

Kevin Breshears, owner of Rheanie Farms in Roosevelt County, said the area needs a minimum of 16 to 20 inches (14 to 18 inches between April and October) of rainfall to produce healthy crops. He said his crop in 2011 was extremely poor. He said the cotton he planted never came up and was failed for insurance. The corn crop was about a third of normal and the Sudan grass was one tenth of normal. He said his crop’s income was at least half of normal.

“The rain might have helped a little but overall we’re going to need more. This is going to definitely help the wheat crop somewhat but it’s got to keep coming,” Breshears said.

According to Breshears, during the winter the area does not receive much deep moisture so the recent rainfall added a bit of moisture for next spring. He said if the area does not receive much rain between now and the next growing season and winds are strong, most, if not all of the deep moisture will be lost.

“Right now it’s maybe time to get a little optimism that this year’s going to better than last year. But it’s got to keep coming to get us out of the woods.”