Drought Conditions in Over Half the State Brings Hard Times for Farmers and Ranchers

Listen to Clay Burtrum talk about drought conditions in Oklahoma.

Forty percent of Oklahoma is out of the drought zone, while another seven to eight percent are in the abnormally dry range. Over half of the state is still suffering from significant drought.

Senior Farm and Ranch Broadcaster, Ron Hays, is featuring comments from the vice president of operations at Farm Data Services, Clay Burtrum, about his experience with handling the drought in the short and long term.

Burtrum farms and ranches within the territory that is under significant drought conditions. A big issue Burtrum is dealing with, he said, is adjusting for the lack of water availability.

“If you look at the Mesonet- less than a quarter inch of rain in over 60 days right there in Payne County,” Burtrum said. “I farm in Payne, Pawnee, and Noble. I haven’t had significant rainfall in over 60 days.”

One way Burtrum has adjusted his property to utilize rainfall for long-term relief includes cleaning out ponds.

“I used the drought commission money as it was commissioned to us to do,” Burtrum said. “We have done those programs with the conservation commission, but now you look here we are in the middle of April- no significant rains to fill the ponds.”

Burtrum said he is having to haul water to one set of his cows and is looking to sell some cows as these drought conditions linger.

“You can’t get creative when the wheat doesn’t grow, we can’t get the Bermuda grass to turn green, and so creativity will kind of go out the window when it comes to having to possibly sell some cows and depopulate the herd,” Burtrum said.

As many pastures have been overgrazed, Burtrum emphasized the importance of allowing the land to heal before building back those cow herds.

Burtrum also talked about a research project he has been involved in for the past three years with Oklahoma State University animal sciences on a virtual fencing program from Merck Animal Health.

The project started with the goal of virtually fencing out areas that needed to heal, Burtrum said, and has now evolved to fencing out pastures that do not have a physical fence. One challenge with virtual fencing, Burtrum said, is using the system where there is no water.

“Technology takes time,” Burtrum said. “This is something, probably in three years, you just click the button on your computer, and it works great but technology takes time and that is the process we are in right now.”

Burtrum advises beef producers to pay attention to the markets and take advantage of market opportunities.

“I don’t want to price ourselves out of the business,” Burtrum said. “You have to look at what the market is telling you, and if that means maybe let your pasture rest, have an exit plan too. Look at what the market is signaling to you to look at what opportunities are out there. For the young guy, it is probably not the time to get in this business. For the old guy, it might be time to get out.”

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