Dry conditions are causing a lack of grass available for livestock.

A lot of Oklahoma corn crops are being repurposed for animal feed due to the drought causing crop failure. Yield is predicted to be lower than usual for most Oklahoma summer crops.

OKLAHOMA CITY — In an “unprecedented” move, Oklahoma lawmakers announced Wednesday they are taking $20 million from state coffers and allocating it to provide drought relief for farmers and ranchers.

State Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, said legislators saw the drought coming while in regular session and allocated $3 million to help, but the drought “is so much worse than we anticipated.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything wet coming from the sky in southeast Oklahoma for sure,” said McCortney, who serves as Senate majority floor leader.

In all, lawmakers plan to invest $23 million for drought relief efforts to help the state’s agricultural producers who “are at that breaking point,” McCortney said.

“This is a moment where we could lose a whole lot of our family farms and our family ranches,” McCortney said.

The Legislature has the extra funds “to step in and to save our farms, save our ranches” because lawmakers have been fiscally responsible and saved money, he said.

State Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, called the expenditure “unprecedented help,” but said legislators are glad to give it.

The U.S. Drought Monitor estimates that 99.97% of Oklahoma is experiencing some level of drought. Over half the state is facing at least extreme drought while 13.6% of Oklahoma lands are under the highest drought level possible, rated as exceptional. Drought condition ratings range from abnormally dry to extreme and exceptional.

Michael Kelsey, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, said Gov. Kevin Stitt recently issued an emergency drought declaration, which triggered the activation of a long dormant emergency drought commission. That commission, which is comprised of leaders from the state’s agriculture, conservation and water resources agencies, had its first meeting in nearly a decade last week.

That commission will determine how the legislative appropriation is spent. It has developed a list of ideas that range from performing pond cleaning and deepening to overseeding pastures with annual forages in hopes of rain later this fall or winter, Kelsey said.

Kelsey also said cattle producers are facing challenges with water, feed and rising diesel prices.

The drought has killed off the forages the cattle eat and the hay crops that producers typically rely on to feed their herds in the winter months. It’s dried up the ponds and creeks that cattle drink from, forcing producers to haul in water.

While the agricultural community weathered a similar drought almost a decade ago, this time around, it also is grappling with inflation, Kelsey said.

“Some of the same challenges regarding water, some of the same challenges regarding forage, but when you add in the costs, (they) are way more intense now than they were back then,” Kelsey said.

He added that the aid is “much needed.”

“A lot of our members have had to sell cows to downsize their herd because they just don’t have enough, specifically water and, or feed, to get them through the summer and the winter,” he said. “As a producer, that cow is critical to your income because she has to produce a calf, and that’s what you sell. If you don’t have any cows, you won’t have any calves.”

In an email, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Farm Bureau said they are keeping a close eye on the new funding "as any amount will help farmers and ranchers feeling the effects of the drought."

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.

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