Rod Santa Ana, special to the Record Star

For the first time in over a century, a severe South Texas drought has claimed the entire cotton production of Kleberg County, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

"Since the founding of Kingsville in 1904, not a single pound of cotton was produced this year in Kleberg County, which includes the King Ranch, one of the area's largest producers," said John Ford, an AgriLife Extension county agent for agriculture based in Kingsville.

Other Coastal Bend counties have not fared much better, experts say.

"Nueces County planted 124,000 acres of cotton and about 95 percent of that failed," said Jeff Stapper, an AgriLife Extension agent in Corpus Christi. "San Patricio County planted about 130,000 acres with a fail rate of more than 90 percent. Grain sorghum did only a little better."

Ford said he and Dr. Larry Falconer, an AgriLife Extension economist in Corpus Christi, estimate the economic hit to Kleburg County alone at about $50 million.

"That's not just lost crop revenue in cotton and grain sorghum," Ford said, "that includes money lost to motels that house the harvesting crews, labor costs at gins and grain elevators and other related losses."

Kleberg County normally produces between 30,000 and 40,000 acres of cotton and 40,000 to 45,000 acres of grain sorghum.

"The entire cotton acreage was zeroed-out," Ford said. "The county was able to carry about 3,000 acres of grain sorghum to harvest, so 37,000 acres of grain sorghum were also zeroed-out," he said.

Like many areas of South Texas, Ford said, Kleberg County has not seen significant, widespread rainfall in almost a year.

"From January to now, we've had about two inches of total rainfall," he said. "But in the crop year, from Sept. 1, 2008, to now, we've had under 5 inches. Normally in a 12-month period we'll have 27 to 28 inches of rainfall."

Ford said local historians claim this is the worst drought they've ever seen.

"The drought of the 1950's has always been the severe-drought measuring stick around here," he said, "but the old-timers say this drought is much worse. It's dry."

While the King Ranch has sugarcane and citrus production holdings in Florida, all its cotton is produced in its South Texas division in Kleberg County, Ford said.

In its early years, the King Ranch experimented with and cultivated quality grasses to improve its pasturelands, which then led to diversified agricultural pursuits, including cotton, grain, sod, citrus, sugarcane and vegetables.

In late July, Texas AgriLife Extension Service economists reported that agricultural drought losses throughout the state had reached $3.6 billion and by the end of the year could exceed $4.1 billion.