Record billion-dollar weather events hit U.S. agriculture in 2011

By Agri-Pulse staff

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 27 - From extreme drought, heat waves and floods to unprecedented tornado outbreaks, hurricanes, wildfires and winter storms, the United States this year suffered a record 12 weather and climate disasters causing damages of $1 billion or more in each. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the dozen disasters killed nearly 650 people and resulted in more than $52 billion in damages.

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Drought in the southeastern United States continues to take its toll. USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service says the West Texas cotton crop will fall nearly 64% below the 5.3 million bales of last year. Texas produces nearly one-third of the nation's cotton crop.


USDA officials say drought conditions resulted in hundreds of thousands of cattle being trimmed from herds across the southern and southwestern states, including a 2% drop in production in Texas, the nation's largest beef producing state with 20% of U.S. beef cattle market.


Widespread precipitation fell across much of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas in recent weeks, greatly easing or eliminating short-term deficiencies. However, the U.S. Drought Monitor says that after the driest 12 months on record (October, 2010 through September, 2011), Texas still suffers from long-term deficits. More than 90% of the state remains in “severe” to “extreme” to “exceptional” drought conditions. As of this weekend, the Weather Service said rainfall levels in much of the state were at about 25% of normal levels.


“Our producers have faced the worst drought in Texas history,” state Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples told rice producers in Austin last week. He said dry conditions resulted in more than 30,000 wildfires that wiped out almost 4 million acres, an area comparable to Delaware, Rhode Island, Washington, D.C. and one-third of Connecticut combined.


Staples said the consequences are long-term. “This threatens the ability of our producers to rebound and be engaged the following year. This threatens our food production capability,” he said.


Texas is the second largest agriculture producing state in the nation and Staples says the damages here have a wide-ranging impact. The losses “should be an issue that concerns all American consumers,” he said. Furthermore, the drought and subsequent damages in Texas have a global impact. “The reality is that the U.S. ag community feeds the world,” he said.


Texas is hardly the only place to feel the heat. The World Meteorological Organization says global temperatures in 2011 are currently the tenth highest on record. They are also said to be higher than any previous year with a La Niña event, a weather pattern emanating from the temperatures in the Pacific Ocean's equatorial waters that usually has a relative cooling influence. The 13 warmest years have all occurred in the 15 years since 1997, the WMO said.



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