NEEDVILLE, Texas - With much of the state stuck in a severe drought, Texas farmers are on the front line of some of the worst effects. With the beginning of August, many are well into a harvest season that has come earlier than normal, as they try to salvage what they can, from the season.
Needville farmer Paul Freund is among them with about 500 acres planted with cotton plants that are decidedly smaller than he needs them to be.
"It ran out of moisture, because of the lack of rain, so it didn't develop all the way," he says while looking over one of his fields.
As a cotton harvester creeps along the rows of plants, persistent drought conditions have left fields with about half of what they'd produce, during a normal season. By some measures, this season could rival the 2011 drought that cost the state $7.6 billion in crop and livestock losses.
"When we got into May, and it stayed dry, then it got drier in June, that's when it kinda' finished it off," says Freund. "We didn't get any rain in June, and as it went, it progressively got worse."
Houston-area farms are a little better off than other Texas cotton farmers who collectively produce more than half the nation's cotton supply. In some regions, the crop has been cooked by the dry, hot season, and may not yield anything.
While a difficult drought is part of the bargain for farmers, they are also being squeezed by the rising inflation that everyone feels. For them, it's fuel, fertilizer, and seed to name a few. Those extra costs, against lackluster yields, will leave some very tight margins for a lot of farmer finances.
"We had a decent year last year. So on average, if you're established, you expect these things," explains Freund. "It still doesn't make it feel any better."
Other farmers facing significant debt and other costs may find it difficult to survive. The trick for all of them is to get through this harvest and hope for enough rain that will allow them to plant again next season.