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Oklahoma farmers and ranchers will soon see additional drought relief money from the state

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Josh Emerson
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“The grass situation is pretty nonexistent right now,” said livestock producer Josh Emerson about the drought’s effect on his pasture in McIntosh County.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has approved $20 million for the Emergency Drought Relief Fund to help farmers and ranchers who have suffered crop and livestock loss during the drought.

Oklahoma’s current drought is the worst the state has experienced in at least 10 years, and the dry, hot weather conditions are especially hitting farmers and ranchers hard.

The bone-dry weather continues to make it difficult to grow hay, and it hasn’t helped pastures grow for cattle to graze on. A lack of rain and rising feed costs have also pushed some livestock producers to make some tough decisions, like feeding winter hay supply early.

“We normally aren’t even thinking about feeding hay until at least another 45 days,” said livestock producer Josh Emerson. “And we’re already feeding a little bit of hay.”

To help offset the detrimental costs of drought, Stitt signed a bill on Oct. 4 to send $20 million to the Emergency Drought Relief Fund, which was established during the 2022 regular legislative session. The $20 million is in addition to the $3 million in relief funds the Emergency Drought Commission allocated across the state’s 77 counties earlier this week.

“This year’s extreme drought conditions have created unprecedented challenges for our agricultural producers, and as governor, I will always do everything I can to support Oklahoma’s great farmers and ranchers,” Stitt said in a statement. “I am proud to have partnered up with the Legislature to deliver this much-needed relief.”

All of Oklahoma is currently experiencing some sort of drought, with a vast majority of the state in a severe to exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

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Brad Pugh
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CPC/NOAA

Emerson said he’s felt the burdensome costs of drought and inflation firsthand this year. He recently paid for a well pump and pipeline installation to set up an old water well, which cost about $2,000. After it rained earlier in June, he paid $16,000 for a load of fertilizers, but only got half of the money back after it stopped raining later that month.

Not only have the dry conditions made it difficult for Emerson to grow hay, but it’s also dried out several of the ponds his nearly 400-cow herd relies on for water.

“I’ve got probably 20 to 25 ponds,” Emerson said. “And I would say eight of them are dry and several others will be dry in a few weeks if we don’t get some runoff.”

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Josh Emerson
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“I’ve got probably 20 to 25 ponds,” Josh Emerson said. “And I would say eight of them are dry and several others will be dry in a few weeks if we don’t get some runoff.”

But Emerson said he’s hopeful the $20 million relief funds will especially help farmers and ranchers with water supply.

“It'll definitely help, Emerson said. “I mean, it's just a drop in the bucket of what the need is, but it will definitely help.”

If the Emergency Drought Commission allocates the $20 million similarly to its emergency drought relief program, projects that would qualify for relief funds would include well drilling, pumping facilities, pipeline, pasture tap, watering facilities, heavy use area protection, cover crop planting, forage and biomass planting (excluding Bermuda grass) and pond cleanout.

While Emerson waits to apply for drought relief funds at his local conservation district, he plans to continue to clean out his ponds and move his cattle to the nearest water tank his old but newly working well pumps into.

“There’s a whole lot of things against us,” Emerson said. “But farmers and ranchers are eternal optimists. So we’re gonna keep doing what we do, and keep praying for rain.”

Xcaret Nuñez covers agriculture and rural communities for KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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