The USDA's latest drought monitor
The USDA's latest drought monitor

%The drought in the Southern Plains shows signs of easing, according to a USDA research meteorologist.

“I think the news is good. In North Central Oklahoma, the drought’s over,” said Jeanne Schneider, USDA research meteorologist who was speaking to farmers at a conservation tillage meeting, reported the BCDemocratonline.com. “If you look at soil moisture right now in this area, it’s pretty good. The weather patterns are getting more active right now.”

Art Douglas, a retired professor from Creighton University and a popular meteorological consultant, said numerical models used by both the U.S. and Europe indicate the opposite ocean phenomenon, El Niño, is quickly replacing La Niña. An El Nino increases the chances of a cool, wet summer for a majority of the U.S.

“We’re pretty confident this El Niño event is already starting and that’s part of the reason you are seeing all of the moisture in Eastern Texas … it’s going to have a real strong impact on us this spring and summer,” Douglas told the BCDemocratonline.com.

Despite the cautiously optimistic attitude many meteorologists are offering, parts of Texas remain in a serious drought. The rice industry has effectively been damaged by the drought. For the first time in its 78-year history, the Lower Colorado River Authority has cut off water to farmers. No irrigation water will effectively shut down rice production in the area.

The irrigation ban is not expected to affect the price of rice, but it has caused some farmers to lay off employees and consider switching to other crops.

Ronald Gertson, a Texas rice farmer, projected he would produce only about 40 percent of his typical rice crop this year. But he’s most upset that the authority will release water to golf courses and other recreational customers who will pay higher rates for a guaranteed water supply.

Many Texas rice producers expect to remain afloat this year due to crop insurance, but another year with interrupted irrigation water could spell an end to the majority of rice production in the state.