The Woodward News

Local News

February 23, 2014

Drought reaches disaster status in Dewey County

Woodward, Okla. — No one has to tell area farmers and ranchers that there is a drought on.

Nevertheless, on Friday, the United States Department of Agriculture issued the official word that Dewey County has been declared a disaster area as a result of a protracted and prolonged dry spell.

 Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, designated the county as a primary disaster area as of Feb. 4, 2014 due to losses caused by continuing emergency drought conditions.

As a result of that, agriculture producers in Dewey County and the neighboring Woodward and Ellis counties are now eligible for low interest loans through the Farm Service Agency (FSA).  For more information regarding eligibility, contact your local FSA office.  The Woodward County FSA Service Center can be reached by phone at (580) 256-7882.

According to Woodward hay and cattle rancher, Claire Craighead, the loans would be to help producers pay bills and make up a little for the loss of production. But Craighead adds a note of warning “don’t forget, the loans are still loans and have to be paid back.”

Craighead believes the entire northwest portion of the state and the Panhandle should actually be declared a disaster.

“I am thankful for the recent snow because it was a good, heavy wet snow, but it wasn’t near enough, not even close to being able to break this drought,” he said.

Craighead, like any producer who works with the basic elements daily witnessed some alarming evidence recently of just how bad the drought has been and how it is impacting not only the surface need for crops but also the ground water needed by everyone here to survive.

“I have an irrigation pump and I test the static water level every year,” he said. “That static water level, from surface to water, was and always has been, for 39 years, about 41 to 42 feet. This year, I checked it when we ran a new irrigation pump and it was, from surface to water, 49 feet.”

He said this was from a pump that's tied to the Ogallala - the regional aquifer which serves  Eastern Colorado, Western Nebraska, Western Kansas, the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma and Northwestern Oklahoma.  

“Now that’s a lot, lot, lot of missing water," Craighead said.

Like many producers, Craighead has responded to the drought by reducing his cow herd, he said by about 37 percent, to protect his pastures from overgrazing.

He said this drop in American cattle production will begin to have an impact on national food supplies.

“I do not know what Americans are going to do other than begin to depend more on foreign food production and they do not have the standards in place that American producers have," he said.

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