In Texas and Oklahoma, Extreme Drought Could Have Political Consequences Too


Cotton harvesting in Texas, USA; unloading freshly harvested cotton. Image credit:Wikipedia

Soon it will be time to harvest some political outcomes of the ongoing extreme drought conditions down South. Here's a climate-impact snapshot of how things stand in the Southern Plains states of Texas and Oklahoma. The US Drought Monitor for August 30th reports: "In Texas and southern Oklahoma, another week of above-normal temperatures (up to 14°F above normal, with highs eclipsing 110°F) and sunny skies further offset the benefits of early month rainfall."

It is particularly dire for ranchers. "As of August 29, pasture and range condition was rated 98 and 92 percent poor to very poor in Texas and Oklahoma, respectively." Bleak future for cotton farming.
Because of the crop losses associated with extreme drought, cotton growers are filing crop insurance claims - more than half of what cotton farmers spend on insurance is federally subsidized. - at a record rate says Bloomberg.

"The number and severity of claims in the Texas Panhandle, High Plains, rolling plains and backlands will be substantially higher than recent years," said Ted Etheredge, president of Lubbock, Texas-based Armtech Insurance, the fifth-largest U.S. writer of federally sponsored crop-insurance policies.
And, no wonder, because as the Drought Monitor reports,
...cotton - a crop that generally thrives in hot, dry weather - was rated 60 percent poor to very poor in Texas and an astounding 92 percent poor to very poor in Oklahoma.

Tropical Storm Lee to the rescue?
Tropical Storm Lee has formed in the northern Gulf of Mexico and shows the potential to dump 10 or 20 inches of rain along eastern Gulf of Mexico's shore. The projected intense rains could affect farmers of Louisiana, or Mississippi, or Alabama, or of the Florida Panhandle. Unfortunately, it's far too late for a single tropical storm to save the lost pastures and dead cotton plants of Texas and Oklahoma.

That said, Lee still could give TV news crews an excuse to stand in rain-whipped shore settings and babble on about how the severe drought may have been been broken. (Easy to make stuff up, knowing no one will challenge forthrightness in the face of a storm.) It would just be more of the usual broadcast media babble giving Texas Governor Perry, Oklahoma's Senator Inhofe and the like cover to carry on with their climate-model disdaining, drowning-government-in-a-bathtub talking points. (Lord knows, the Obama Administration won't call them on it.)

Act of God, or Man?
Government climate experts are predicting no significant drought relief for Texas and Oklahoma. Why, then, replant next year if there is so little chance of a productive crop? Because, I suppose, the State of Texas thinks it has the right to accept those crop insurance payouts, with farmers having paid for premiums from an established program. (Rather like Social Security.)

Traditions, however, may not be enough to stop a Presidential candidate or news anchor from asking 'why US taxpayers have the obligation to payout crop loss claims with nothing but continuing loss projected?'. Peeing in the wind, and all that.

Aside: The Texas Tribune reports that Governor RIck Perry, "...a former West Texas cotton farmer, received at least $83,000 in federal farm subsidies between 1987 and 1998, during the time he was in elected office, according to his tax returns."

The divide
Gin literally means to separate or to divide. You can gin some of the people some of the time, but not all the people all the time. Without a tropical storm to lash TV reporters on Texas' Gulf shore, political sleight of hand will be that much harder.

And so it is, that Eric Cantor's demand that disaster relief cost increases be offset by budget cuts elsewhere might well be applied to a crop insurance program.

I know I'm dreaming here, but wouldn't it be provocative to have a Republican Presidential primary debate moderator ask 'is the drought that has ruined Texas' agricultural economy this year an Act of God or was it caused by man?' Fantasy follow-up question: why is God's wrath focused on the Southern Plains?


Image credit: US Drought Monitor

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