Farmers in Texas Go from Drought to Deluge

Farmers in Texas Go from Drought to Deluge

June 13, 2016

Story provided by Texas Farm Bureau

Green crops. Rubber boots. Flooded fields. It’s something many Texas rice farmers haven’t seen in a long time.

“My family started in about 1908 farming rice. I’m real happy. I hated to see the last 4 years when there was no rice.  And it’s a blessing to see it. To see the water flowing out of the river. To see the green rice fields," said Paul Sliva, a Texas rice farmer.

This is the first time since 2011 the Lower Colorado River Authority has released water downstream for irrigation. Rice is a shallow rooted crop,  meaning it needs lots of water. But until the spring of 2015, water was scarce in Texas. The historic multi-year drought took its toll. Many Texas lakes & rivers dried up – as did Paul’s rice fields. He gets most of his water from the nearby Colorado River. But for the last few years, there wasn’t enough to go around.  "The reservoirs in Austin, Travis and Buchanan, were at a level that was really too low for us to get water from,” Sliva recounts.

But this year his barren fields have transformed back into a luscious rice crop. After two very wet spring seasons, the Highland Lakes are full, which means Paul can count on water flowing into his rice fields. A trend he hopes continues.

“I'm fairly confident we will have water next year but, you know, we just need normal rainfall patterns to come back," said Sliva. "It’s been so long since we’ve seen normal; I don't know what normal is anymore.  It’s either too wet or too dry."

The over saturated spring hasn’t been without its challenges for rice farmers.  Earlier in the year, too much rain caused some seeds to rot before breaking through the ground. Plus some levees couldn’t withstand torrential downpours. "This is a sandy loam type soil. The levees were fairly fresh. The rice on them was young and didn't have a big root system yet. And so the water we had in the field from flushing then you got the 3 inch or 4 inches of rain on top of it. It was just too much water at one time," explained the farmer. 

Weeks were spent repairing and rebuilding levees. It’s hard, back-breaking work. But it’s better than not growing a crop.  

Erratic weather patterns & and an ever growing population makes the future of Texas rice uncertain. Farmers like Paul have dug wells to help when surface water is low. Plus LCRA is building a new off-channel reservoir just upstream near Lane City. It hopes to hold up to 90,000 acre-feet of water for the region.  

Rice is important to Texas. Farmers along the Colorado River are happy to be back in their rubber boots. Growing one of the world’s most essential crops.

Sliva is happy with the current condition. "It is very nice to be out there in the water, wade around, looking at the rice. There's nothing better to me than growing a rice crop."

While the recent floods were a blessing in disguise for many farmers and ranchers, others lost scores of livestock that drowned in high waters. Many of them will be eligible for assistance through the farm bill's livestock indemnity program. To file a claim, Texas farmers and ranchers should contact their local farm service agency office.         

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