By On the Road to FARMLANDIA | September 16, 2011 at 07:01 PM EDT | No Comments
I never did catch a dust devil in Texas, though I tried. But just as they whirl up suddenly iike miniature tornados, they disappear--illusive and ephemeral as the dust they are made of. They aren't dangerous in and of themselves, but they do warn of danger: with each big blow and small whirlwind across the bone dry land of Texas comes the loss of the soil that can never be replaced. The drought and blistering heat have turned great swaths of Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma into near desert (not to mention the fires that have destroyed millions of acres). By all accounts, it is the worst drought in memory and has knocked out both cotton and grass for cattle. It's hard to visualize this part of Texas without white cotton, and black Angus grazing--but neither are there.
I visited Eric Herm and his family, Allison and the boys, Wyatt & Donovan, who generously opened their home to me for a stay in Ackerly, TX. I could not come sooner than this past week because it was just too damned hot; my equipment can only take 104 degrees before it shuts down (or melts). Eric took me around to learn something about a part of the country I knew little about, and in particular, about cotton, a crop I knew nothing about. It isn't all disaster, as the cotton farmers who drip irrigate do have a crop, though it's about a foot shorter than it should be and water is dear. (What little water there is is shared with the oil industry, whose pumps are more plentiful than cattle these days.) The dryland cotton farmers have nothing but dry land; just as Eric lost this year's cotton, so have all the others. We visited the local cotton gin in Big Springs where they have hunkered down to a very bad year. The place looked deserted; there is so little cotton to gin. Jeff Watkins told us that the affects of the drought on the crop has already been felt across the state in small towns like Big Springs all the way to Lubbock. It's pretty much a disaster both for the economy and for the land itself.
My last day we could see a dark sky in the distance. The forecast had a 60% chance of rain, enough for Eric to set up his rain catching system on a note of great optimism. The next morning, it was there: rain. At last. Not enough to save this year's crop, but there's always next year......