Wells are running dry in drought-weary Southwest as foreign-owned farms guzzle water to feed cattle overseas
Drought-weary farmers in the heartland of U.S. agriculture are looking to foreign for help as they struggle to obtain water that has been promised to them. The long drought gripping the region has prompted some farmers to consider alternatives, such as seeking water abroad.
As the water crisis grows, it is raising questions about how the federal government plans to provide water for farmers across the country.
“The government is in a terrible position,” said Jeff Brown, executive director of the Texas Cattle Buyers Association. “Here’s a drought, so they can’t even find water to farm.”
The drought has been the worst in 100 years. Since the summer of 2012, farmers in many parts of the U.S. have planted only 65% of the planted acres that were originally intended — an average of 18 million — according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The nation now has record-breaking stretches of below-average rainfall, with more than 40% of the year’s total supply of water in the past two months. The drought has left many farmers struggling to find water to farm. With farmers expecting another year of dry weather, they could be faced with difficult decisions about farming to try to stay in business.
Farmers from a handful of Midwestern states, including Nebraska, where Nebraska State Farmers Association president Joe Bunch was among farmers whose crop plans were canceled by the state last month, have considered moving crops to dry areas in Asia, where crops can be grown with less water or no water at all.
Bunch said he is considering shifting to a dry area in South America to escape droughts. Several of his family’s pastures were covered in snow when he was growing up, and so he also has considered moving to Mexico.
The Bunch family has already sold a portion of its dry land in central Nebraska to a farmer from New Zealand, Bunch’s son says. He’s also in discussions with a New Zealand dairy farmer to buy the family’s dry