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Central Texans struggle with what's likely to be its hottest summer on record


In Texas, drought and extreme heat are forcing some ranchers to reduce their herds. And some farmers are having trouble growing anything at all. Here's Kailey Hunt from member station KUT in Austin.

KAILEY HUNT, BYLINE: Pedro Tamez has had a rough summer.

PEDRO TAMEZ: Well, we had squash planted, which are a nice summer crop. And, yeah, they kind of burned off.

HUNT: Tamez and his wife run Isle Acre Farms, a small community-supported farming operation north of Austin. Paying members get a weekly box of produce. With repeated triple-digit heat streaks, Tamez says he has tried and failed to plant at least two batches of squash, one of the farm's typical summer crops.

TAMEZ: There's just - it's just drying them out before they can even try to spread roots out. Even our transplants that are well-established in their trays, that heat is so brutal on them that they just burn off on the field.

HUNT: Just up the road from Isle Acre Farms, Julie Green is raising a herd of Texas longhorns. She says her grass-fed herd is typically pretty adaptable to the heat and drought. But this summer, the temperatures have killed off all the grass in her pasture.

JULIE GREEN: We're actually having to truck in hay because the rest of Texas is not getting any rain either. So there's nowhere that they are baling hay.

HUNT: Green says driving to places as far away as Oklahoma and Kansas for hay is necessary but expensive, especially when you add in fuel costs for the hundreds of miles she has to drive. Green says she was recently forced to sell off 27 cows because she simply can't afford to feed them.

GREEN: These were mamas with very young calves that we were holding for beef. But in a drought situation like this, you can't raise the calves.

HUNT: Green says selling more of her cows now will help her business in the short term, but it means she'll have fewer cattle to sell next year and the years to come. Green is not alone. Cattle ranchers all across the region and the state are thinning out their herds because of hot summers. David Anderson, an agricultural economist at Texas A&M University, says consumers will feel the impact at the supermarket. Shoppers nationwide are likely to continue to see high beef prices.

DAVID ANDERSON: As this drought continues and prevents cattle producers, ranchers, from expanding their herds because it's still dry, it means that those high prices are going to be with us for a long time to come.

HUNT: Meanwhile, back at Isle Acre Farms, Pedro Tamez and his wife are putting up giant shade cloths across much of their land in an effort to cool down the soil.

TAMEZ: So we're hoping once we have that in the air, floating, blocking that sun, we can get down there with a cooler soil and get some greens going.

HUNT: Tamez says in his eight years of farming, he's never seen the soil get this hot and dry.

TAMEZ: August - we usually have storms coming in kind of weekly, like where rain's coming in. And that hasn't happened.

HUNT: It's not even the end of the summer yet in Texas, but Tamez and the others say they're bracing to have to fight the heat and drought and its challenges again next year.

For NPR News, I'm Kailey Hunt in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kailey Hunt