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Oklahoma Farms Grapple With Drought, Then Downpours


After years of crippling drought in the Southern Plains, farmers got more water than they hoped-for. Torrential downpours have brought severe flooding to many parts of Texas and Oklahoma this month. On Friday, President Obama declared a major disaster area in Texas. More bad weather is in the forecast. Many farmers have been praying for rain since 2010 when the drought began, but the floods have brought new problems to the region. Tom Buchanan is a farmer and rancher in Oklahoma. He's president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau. He joins us on the telephone from Southwestern Oklahoma. Mr. Buchanan, welcome.

TOM BUCHANAN: Well, glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

WERTHEIMER: So what do you grown in that part of Oklahoma?

BUCHANAN: Our primary crops here are beef cows, and mamma cow herd is big in western Oklahoma and into southwest. Winter, wheat is our primary product for the winter season. And then locally, we produce cotton - is our supper crop. But haven't produced a cotton crop since 2010 - was the last time that I had a cotton crop to harvest. All of that is a result of the drought that started in 2010 here.

WERTHEIMER: So everything being equal, you would typically be planting cotton right about now wouldn't you?

BUCHANAN: Absolutely. You're right on target. We are still in the process of getting that cotton in the ground as we speak.

WERTHEIMER: It's not too wet to plow?

BUCHANAN: It is. Certainly, some areas are fully saturated and too wet. But today, we're having a good, sunny day with a lot of wind. I'm going to have some drying weather, and we'll be in the field very quickly.

WERTHEIMER: Now, you've been living with drought conditions for years now so granted that with this kind of flooding, you're going from famine to feast. But is it better to have rain even a whole lot of rain than to have no rain?

BUCHANAN: Well, you know, that's a very hard question, Linda, but yes. Today, I would fall on the side that more rain is better than none at all. When you live in a drought as we have been in '11, '12, '13 and '14 to where that you lose crops, cow herds are liquidated because there's not enough drinking water for them, we would much rather have more rain than none at all. Yes ma'am.

WERTHEIMER: I don't suppose we can assume that this will break the drought, but perhaps it will. What would it take to get your farm and others in the area back to where they were before the 2010 drought started?

BUCHANAN: I believe that we still have a couple of years in front of us of what we would call normal rainfall. And in this area, that's about 26 inches per year. So if we can look, for the next two years, to give us in that range, I believe that we could say that our drought is officially broken. But as of today, no.

WERTHEIMER: So what are you hearing from other farmers around Oklahoma?

BUCHANAN: Well, the beef producers are very much encouraged with this much rainfall now that their grass pastures are beginning to grow and get good forage back in there. And the best thing is their ponds are beginning to refill. So they will have adequate drinking water for that cow herd. So they're beginning to restock and rebuild that herd. The crop producers themselves are very much ecstatic now. They've got some moisture to not only finish out a wheat crop that we have coming up here very shortly, but also for the summer crops that they're putting in. So attitudes are greatly improved.

WERTHEIMER: Now, I got to say you have lately had a spate of earthquakes in Oklahoma, you sit in Tornado Alley, you've had a drought, you've had floods. I mean, is it going to be the fire next time? What do you think?

BUCHANAN: Oklahoma is a marvelous place to live; Western Oklahoma is even better and come to Southwest Oklahoma. You'd love it here. Is there some exciting times with what Mother Nature does? Absolutely. But if you're an ag producer, you live with Mother Nature, you understand what's going on. You hope you do anyway. And that's just part of the game. So are there some hurtles occasionally? Absolutely. Are there some obstacles? You bet, but that's what makes life worth living.

WERTHEIMER: Tom Buchanan is president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau. He lives in Altus, Okla., or near Altus, Okla. Mr. Buchanan, thank you very much.

BUCHANAN: Thanks for having me. Y'all have a good day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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