LUBBOCK, Texas — Randy McGee spent $28,000 in one month pumping water onto about 500 acres in West Texas before he decided to give up irrigating 75 acres of corn and focus on other crops that stood a better chance in the drought.
He thought rain might come and save those 75 acres, but it didn't and days of triple-digit heat sucked the remaining moisture from the soil. McGee walked recently through rows of sunbaked and stunted stalks, one of thousands of farmers counting his losses amid record heat and drought this year.
The drought has spread over much of the southern United States, leaving Oklahoma the driest it has been since the 1930s and setting records from Louisiana to New Mexico. But the situation is especially severe in Texas, which trails only California in agricultural productivity.
McGee is still watering another variety of corn, cotton and sorghum, but the loss of nearly one-sixth of his acres after spending so much on irrigation weighs on him.
"Kind of depressing," the 34-year-old farmer said. "You use that much of a resource and nothing to show for it. This year, no matter what you do, it's not quite enough."
About 70 percent of Texas rangeland and pastures are classified as in very poor condition, which means there has been complete or near complete crop failure or there's no food for grazing livestock. The crop and livestock losses could be the worst the state has seen — perhaps twice the previous single-year record of $4.1 billion set in 2006, said David Anderson, an economist with Texas AgriLife Extension Service.
Consumers will eventually see the cost of the drought passed on to them, although it's hard to say by how much since processing, marketing, transportation and other costs also play a big role in retail prices, he said.