OKLAHOMA CITY —
The lingering drought is proving a tough battle for Oklahoma farmers and ranchers, who have seen crops die in the fields and have been forced to thin their cattle herds because of decimated pastures and shriveling farm ponds. The ripple effects of the drought also are stretching into rural communities in western Oklahoma as farms hire fewer workers and spend less money in the local economy.
“This will be the third year in a row that we’ve missed a cotton crop,” said Tom Buchanan, who produces cotton and wheat and runs a herd of cattle in Jackson County in southwest Oklahoma. “Because we are missing a crop, we don’t require the amount of labor we normally do.”
While Buchanan acknowledged most Oklahoma farmers are eternal optimists and a good rain will eventually lead to bumper crops, he’s most concerned about the long-term effect on cattle herds across western Oklahoma and the Panhandle.
“What Oklahoma is going to continue to suffer from the agricultural standpoint is the cow herd that’s been decimated by this drought,” he said. “That cow herd won’t be built back up overnight.
“There’s just no water left out here for the cattle. Ponds have dried up, creeks have dried up, and well water is becoming not reliable as it was.”
Water sources, both underground water tables and ponds and lakes in western Oklahoma, have been particularly hard hit by consecutive years of drought.
For years, state Rep. Don Armes spent time in the summer cooking out and watching folks boat and water ski at a flood control reservoir near Chattanooga.
“You can walk clear across that lake right now,” said Armes, R-Faxon. That was a pretty decent lake. Now, it’s just totally gone.”
At Canton Lake in northwest Oklahoma, the president of the local lake association is concerned the lake is dying after Oklahoma City officials in January began diverting billions of gallons to Lake Hefner to replenish the drinking water supply for about 1.2 million people in the metro area.
Canton Lake Association President Jeff Converse says he recently saw dead fish in the lake and believes conditions will only get worse as the summer heats up.
Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy