OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Drought conditions that have plagued Oklahoma and stunted the state’s cotton crop are now trickling into other areas of the farm economy.
This time of year, farm operations typically increase the number of workers, but at Humphrey’s Co-operative Gin and Elevator, board member Joe Kelly of Altus says the co-op has had to lay off one if its 20 workers.
“There’s probably 25 to 30 we won’t hire, that’s seasonal help,” said Kelly, a cotton farmer. Typically extra workers are brought out to help with the cotton harvest that begins in late September.
Shawn Skaggs, general manager of Livingston Machinery Co. in Chickasha, said the lack of sales of new farm equipment cost his company an estimated $5 million to $6 million in 2011, but that the company has not had to lay off any of its 82 employees.
“One of the things we’ve tried to do is diversify as much as possible,” Skaggs said. “We try to do as much as we can through our service and parts business. They (farmers) may not be buying new equipment but they’re trying to maintain what they have.”
Any rains that fall now would come too late to save this year’s planting, grown primarily in southwestern Oklahoma, where rainfall has already been scarce.
“It could rain every day until Christmas and it won’t help the cotton crop,” Kelly said.
The current U.S. Drought Monitor shows 90 percent of Oklahoma in extreme or exceptional drought, the two worst categories. The monitor rated much of the western half of the state in the most severe category.
Cotton is Oklahoma’s third-leading crop, with an average economic input of about $200 million a year, behind wheat, which saw a good year due to spring rains, and hay, which was a still salvageable crop, Kelly said.
“What the rain will do now will help our pastures, green that back up,” providing forage for the state’s cattle industry.
Kelly said he depends on the Lake Altus-Lugert Irrigation District to water his crop, but the district allowed no water to be taken from the lake this year because of low water.
He said he has federal crop insurance that he hopes will offset at least the cost of putting his crop into the field.
Harvey Schroeder of Frederick said he did not purchase insurance for his cotton crop. He had only one solution when asked how he would deal with the loss: “Reach into your pocket and pay for it.”
Kelly said he is not likely to apply for low-interest federal loans that are available due to the entire state being declared a disaster area by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as a result of the drought’s effects on farms.
“That’s not how I like to make my money,” he said.
Skaggs said Livingston Machinery was also unlikely to apply for a loan, available through the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“No, we try to operate on as little debt as possible.” Skaggs said.