Drought threatens some Texans' livelihoods

NOAA connects Texas drought with climate change
For rancher Don Smith, the drought has cut deep into his savings, requiring more money to water and to feed his 235 cows.

(CBS News) SULPHUR SPRINGS, Texas -Temperatures hit the 80's and 90's across Texas again Saturday, prolonging the drought that is putting the livelihood of lifelong farmers and ranchers at risk.

Sulphur Springs, Texas has a rhythm that has endured decades. Rancher Don Smith, 68, loves his way of life.

"We came across here this morning and the cows were getting up, the calves were nursing, and gosh, man it don't get no better than that," he said.

But Smith also knows the hard times. He comes from a family of Texas cattlemen -- a family that endured a record-setting drought that began in 1947. Lasting 10 years, it ruined thousands of farmers and ranchers.

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For the past two years, Smith has been fighting again to save his ranch. The latest drought has cut deep into his savings, requiring more money to water and to feed his 235 cows.

He is not alone. Many others are struggling in this northeast Texas farmers co-op.

"It is a one-two punch for the southwest United States, when you hitchhike on what we went through last year, which we'll call the 'big boy,'" said general manager Brad Johnson.

Why the 'big boy'? "The 'big boy' drought last year in the state of Texas exceeded anything that we had seen in the past," said Johnson.

He said the 6,200 members of his co-op are also suffering from the catastrophic drought gripping the Midwest. It has killed the corn that would have fed these Texas cows and sent the price of feed soaring.

The July report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows the lowest national cattle herd since 1973. Ranchers here say the prolonged drought could make those numbers even lower.

"The only place that we have to turn is to liquidate our animals," said Johnson, "and then somehow look for another livelihood that in this economy doesn't seem to be offering a lot of opportunities to a lot of people."

The estimate is that 25 percent of the ranchers and dairy farmers in this co-op may be on the brink of losing their way of life.

"The best way to put it at this point is let's just all pray for rain," said Johnson.

Rain, and a lot of it.