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Extension Agent: Thanks for food

By Victoria Advocate
Nov. 22, 2011 at 5:22 a.m.

Joe Janak

By Joe Janak

Of all the things to be thankful for, abundant, high quality, safe, wholesome and reasonably-priced food must be on your list. Yes, I know food prices have gone up, but we still have the cheapest food prices. We spend less of our income on food than any other country in the world.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has annually since 1986 compiled a survey of about 140 volunteer shoppers in 35 states in the United States who have purchased the same products in preparation of a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people. In 1986, the meal, which included turkey, sweet potatoes, peas, pumpkin pie and all the trimmings, cost $28.74. In 2000, it rose to $32.37; 2010, it rose to $43.47; 2011's price rose 13 percent to $49.20. This is still less than $5 per person for an extravagant meal.

Texas Farm Bureau volunteers conduct the similar survey of prices for our state, and Texas food is even cheaper with the meal going for $48.69, up $2.17 or 4.66 percent from last year. Most Texas foods increased from 2 to 8 percent in price except for pecans, which increased by nearly 18 percent over last year because of the drought.

So, help with the cooking, and then sit down, be thankful and enjoy a wholesome meal with your family.

Drought persists

I recently witnessed the digging of three 5- to 6-feet holes in the ground. One for my mother's final place of rest, and two for mud pits for two new water wells because of the drought. Folks, it is very, very dry. Down to that depth, there was no moisture at all. Depending on the depth, the soil was powdery dry or was 2- to 4-inch brick-like cubes of extremely hard, dry clay. It is no wonder there is no grass, no hay and trees are dying.

I was told the other day when it was a warm, low humidity, sunshiny day, "Oh, what a gorgeous day it is." My response was it would be gorgeous if it was raining. I know I'm preaching to the choir, but there will be nothing gorgeous if it doesn't rain substantially and soon. Water rationing will become more stringent in cities; trees and lawns will continue to die; forage grasses will not grow; winter grasses and clovers won't produce; and crops planted in three months may not grow and produce.

If you think food prices are high, you'd better brace yourself. We are already at the lowest number of cattle in the United States in more than 50 years. And Texas is getting rid of more cattle every day because of the drought. Vegetables will have to be irrigated, or little produce will result. Food will become increasingly more expensive to raise and purchase.

Easy answers are not to be found. Employ water conservation techniques in whatever you do, from reduced tillage, to setting up rainwater harvesting barrels or tanks, drip irrigation in the garden and landscape, etc. Paul and Mary Meredith, two of our Master Gardeners/Master Naturalists recently demonstrated that they collected more than 2,400 gallons of water annually for watering plants and wildlife from just their air conditioner condensate ... and that's on a low humidity, drought year.

About a week ago, with only 1/4-inch of rain, Master Gardener Chip Stelpflug filled three 55 gallon barrels with runoff from his home. They ran over and he estimates more than 500 gallons could have been harvested if he was set up to catch it all. Remember, with each 1 inch of rainfall, a roof can collect about 0.6 gallons of water per square foot. So an average 2,000 square foot home can collect about 1,200 gallons rainwater per 1 inch of rain.

And if you are interested in maintaining the shade you have around your homes, businesses or farm shops, I'd recommend you start watering those trees immediately. Use drip or soaker hoses anytime during the day or sprinklers in the early morning hours until about 10 a.m. following all water restrictions.

Water so it soaks at least a foot deep, which will take about 3 inches of rain equivalent. Remember, it's dry below that level, so let it soak to at least one foot deep. Most tree roots are in the 12- to 18-inch depth and are at the dripline of the tree (the outer extension of the branches area) and farther. Don't water at the trunk unless the tree is recently planted and less than 1 inch in diameter. Move drip hoses 3 feet to the side about every 3-4 hours. With most sprinklers applying about 1/3-inch per hour, it'll take sprinkling in the same site for about 6 to 9 hours. Use cans from canned vegetables to catch water and gauge application rates.

Watering trees now may save your trees by helping to reduce stress. Reduced stress will minimize tree losses because of reduced susceptibility to diseases such as hypoxylon canker attacking stressed trees like we had in the drought in the late 1980s.

Joe Janak is a Victoria County extension agent.

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