Even with recent rains, it’s still officially dry in Texas.  Soil scientists from the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) have collected data that supports record breaking low precipitation not only for the 2011 calendar year but also for the last 12 month period on the Southern High Plains – one of the state’s top agriculture producing areas. 

The rich, fertile soils in this area make it ideal for farming, but the extended drought has had long-lasting impacts on the agriculture industry.

“Rainfall deficits coupled with high temperatures and excessive winds during the early part of the 2011 growing season contributed to the severity of the drought,” says Craig Byrd, NRCS soil survey project leader in Lubbock.

While scientists have determined 2011 was the driest year on record, economists estimate it was also the costliest drought ever recorded.  Texas AgriLife Extension estimates the agriculture industry, which is the state’s second largest industry, suffered a $7.62 billion loss. This is more than $3.5 billion higher than the 2006 drought loss estimates, which previously was the costliest drought on record.

The Southern High Plains is the state’s top cotton-producing area. The cotton industry alone lost $2.2 billion in 2011. The Southern High Plains is also a top producer for corn, wheat and sorghum. The state’s grain industry lost a combined total of $1.4 billion, according to recently released information from Texas AgriLife Extension.

The 2011 rainfall data for the Southern High Plains was collected through the Soil Climate Analysis Network (SCAN) stations at six monitoring sites located at Willow Wells and Crossroads, New Mexico, and Lehman, Levelland, and Lubbock (Reese Center), Texas, through the National Water and Climate Center.

Since January 2011, rainfall totals recorded at the SCAN locations ranged from 2.68 to 4.07 inches of precipitation.  Normally this range should be somewhere between 15.3 to 17.9 inches for the region.In 2011 the cumulative rainfall total for Lubbock (Reese Center) is 2.94 inches.  The 30-year average is normally 17.3 inches for Lubbock at this time of year.  Cumulative rainfall over the last 12 months at Lubbock (Reese Center) totals 4.25 inches, which Byrd says undoubtedly qualifies this as a historical drought.