The drought just wouldn't turn loose in Texas and Oklahoma as 2013 began on a dry note. And the "clouds" were the political ones in Washington as politicians continued to wrestle with agricultural policy, leaving producers with no direction of how the wind will blow there.
For many producers in the Southwest, they are now dealing with their third year of drought.
Taylor County cattle producer Steve Stockton, who also grows wheat and cotton, had less than half his average rainfall in 2011, the year of both record drought and heat in Texas, followed by 2012 with some sporadic rainfall—but still long periods of merciless dry conditions and extreme heat.
Now in 2013, his winter wheat pasture is only providing limited grazing. He rotates cattle from place to place, trying to provide them forage. Stockton also is feeding hay regularly and is providing mineral blocks for this primarily Brangus cattle herd in hopes of getting them through winter in good flesh.
In 2011, he had rolled up 80 bales of wheat hay. He also had some round bales of hay grazer. But Stockton needed a little cash flow, and sold a few of his bales. He was sure glad he didn't sell them all.
"If I'd had a crystal ball, I wouldn't have sold any hay," he looks back now.
He also had a stroke of pure luck—as he sees it. Stockton was able to run cows from late 2011 to June 2012 on some volunteer wheat.
"If I'd plowed it up, I wouldn't have had anything," Stockton reflects. "As a general rule, you don't want to depend on volunteer wheat. But in this case, if I hadn't had volunteer wheat, I would have had to sell my cows."
But with that volunteer wheat bridging the grazing gap as drought persisted—and the big round hay bales he had kept—he has survived into 2013 with this cows.