The state's ongoing drought has cost the state’s farmers and ranchers nearly $1 billion, and losses could continue to mount this spring if sufficient rainfall isn’t received for forage or row crops, Texas AgriLife Extension Service economists report.

Rainfall this week over much of Texas was too little too late as ongoing drought has cost livestock producers $569 million since November. Cattle producers have spent substantial amounts on hay and supplemental feed, according to agriculture officials, and the drought losses also include failed wheat crops usually used for grazing.

When totaling losses already sustained since November, AgriLife Extension economists said the ongoing drought has cost Texas $829 million to date. Those losses will likely surpass the $1 billion mark in the next 60 days as livestock producers continue to make supplemental feed purchases or sell cattle and calves in a declining market, said Dr. David Anderson, AgriLife Extension livestock marketing economist.

“The lack of rain has reduced wheat grazing production, resulting in less forage available and lost income from grazing,” Anderson said.

“Texas is the largest beef cow producing state in the United States with more than five million head. More than 60 percent of the state’s beef cows are located in counties categorized as being in severe to exceptional drought.

“The effects of drought on livestock go well beyond the immediate year. Drought results in reduced conception rates and calf crops the next year. The lack of feed results in lower cattle sale weights. Range and pasture recovery from drought can take multiple years and can result in reduced stocking rates while ranges recover.”

Dry conditions across the state began in 2008 and have continued into early spring. Late rains that came in August of last year were too late for crop farmers, but did “grant a reprieve for ranchers in some parts of Texas,” said Dr. Mark Welch, AgriLife Extension small grains specialist.

“That reprieve was short-lived as dry weather returned and has remained throughout winter,” he said.

Last fall, Texas farmers planted 5.9 million acres of winter wheat. Over the course of the winter, the condition of that wheat crop has deteriorated, Welch said. According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, about two-thirds of the Texas wheat crop is rated as being in "very poor" to "poor condition."

“These are the worst wheat condition ratings since the drought of 2006 - a year when only 25 percent of planted wheat acres were harvested and the yield on those acres averaged 24 bushels,” Welch said. “The long-term average wheat yield in Texas is 30 bushels per acre.”

Meanwhile, Texas’ crop planting continues to be bleak due to the onslaught of dry weather, Welch said. Corn planting is 20 percent complete compared to 33 percent during the same period in 2008, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture, while grain sorghum is 6 percent complete compared to 22 percent a year ago.

Uncertainty remains for the state’s cotton crop, Welch said.

“Given the regular occurrence of dry weather in West and South Texas, and the late planting date in West Texas, it is not unusual to be facing uncertainty about the level and condition of cotton plantings in Texas,” he said. “As the West Texas crop is not planted until May, there is still ample time for conditions to change.”