Thursday March 29th 2012

Warming-Fueled Texas Drought Cost Farmers $7.6 Billion: ‘No One Alive Has Seen Single-Year Drought Damage To This Extent’

Texas Agronomists have revised estimates for the cost of Texas’ devastating drought, finding that it cost the agricultural sector $2 billion more than originally thought.

According to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, the Texas drought has caused $7.62 billion in damages to crops and farming operations. That’s up from $5.3 billion reported last August.

Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon explained last September:

Warmer temperatures lead to greater water demand, faster evaporation, and greater drying-out of potential fuels for fire. Thus, the impacts of the drought were enhanced by global warming, much of which has been caused by man.

Nearly every single agricultural sector in the state was hammered by the record-breaking drought that began in 2010, causing a ripple effect through global commodity markets. With livestock, cotton, peanut and even pumpkin crops hit hard, shortages of product is driving prices up and putting a squeeze on farmers in the state

“When you are one of the biggest agricultural producing states in the nation, a monumental drought causes enormous losses,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said in a statement this week after the new damage figures were released. Other agricultural experts weighed in on the devastating impact to Texas farmers:

“2011 was the driest year on record and certainly an infamous year of distinction for the state’s farmers and ranchers,” said Dr. David Anderson, AgriLife Extension livestock economist. “The $7.62 billion mark for 2011 is more than $3.5 billion higher than the 2006 drought loss estimates, which previously was the costliest drought on record. The 2011 losses also represent about 43 percent of the average value of agricultural receipts over the last four years.”

“No one alive has seen single-year drought damage to this extent,” said Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension agronomist and a member of the Governor’s Drought Preparedness Council. “Texas farmers and ranchers are not strangers to drought, but the intensity of the drought, reflected in record high temperatures, record low precipitation, unprecedented winds coupled with duration – all came together to devastate production agriculture.”

Like a baseball hitter on steroids, climatologists say that the likelihood of the Texas drought was increased due to the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Scientists at NASA, including climatologist James Hansen, said in January that analysis of 50 years of temperature data show that the Texas drought was “a consequence of global warming because their likelihood was negligible prior to the recent rapid global warming.”

Texas A&M, climate scientist Andrew Dessler asserted last August, “there is absolutely no way you can conclude that climate change is not playing a role here. I’m quite surprised that anyone would even suggest that.”  Texas climatologist Katherine Hayhoe recently explained, “our natural variability is now occurring on top of, and interacting with, background conditions that have already been altered by long-term climate change.”

Just as we see during the current heat wave shattering high-temperature records throughout the U.S., climatologists and meteorologists are consistently saying that these extreme weather events are being influenced by extra energy in the atmosphere (see March Madness: ‘This May Be An Unprecedented Event Since Modern U.S. Weather Records Began In The Late 19th Century’).

“It is highly unlikely the warmth of the current ‘Summer in March’ heat wave could have occurred unless the climate was warming,” said Dr. Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground in a scientific analysis of the phenomenon.

As the rest of the country catches up to Texas, farmers in the state continue to incur billions in damages — a sign of the economic costs to come.

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This article was originally posted on Climate Progress