The most prevalent question overheard around the cattle barns during the San Antonio Livestock Show was "When are we going to get some rain?" When old friends from across the state met, you could bet that it wouldn't be long before someone would ask, "Is your part of the country as dry as ours?"

One point that everyone could agree upon was that beneficial some serious drought problems once again. amounts of rain need to blanket the state real soon. If not, Texas farmers and ranchers are going to be facing

Comments of that nature were very wide-spread during the 2006 spring stock show season and, by most accounts, the lack of soil moisture going into 2009 is, in many locations, more severe than three years ago. Folks involved in the cow-calf industry are still trying to rebound from the last drought. Many producers will be facing hard decisions of culling older producing cows or selling off replacement heifers that they have been trying to get to breed this winter and early spring.

Although the U.S. beef cow herd experienced a drop of -2.35 percent based on inventory numbers compared between January 2008 and 2009, Texas beef cow numbers showed a modest increase during that twelve month period of +0.39 percent. Statewide, that equates to some 20,000 new beef females coming into production during the past year. But now, Texas cattle producers' efforts to re-build individual cow herds back to pre-2006 levels appear to be doomed to additional drought induced setbacks.

Now, there is speculation that culling of older cows from herds in the driest areas of the state during January and February may have resulted in close to the 20,000 head being sent to the packer or shipped out of state. But, drought has not been the only weather factor that reduced breeding cow numbers in Texas. We can't forget the devastation that Hurricane Ike did to the cattle herds along the Upper Texas Coast in September. Even the cattle that lived through the deadly tidal surge were faced with pastures inundated with salt water. That required ranchers to relocate cows to other areas and sell those that could not be relocated. Many of the older cows went to packers, while out-of-state cattle producers purchased some of the younger cows.

According to the Texas Agricultural Statistical Service, beef cow numbers in counties in the southeastern portion of the state, dropped by 97,000 head between 2007 and 2008. That equates to a 5.27 percent decline in breeding cows that have calved in the state's primary cow-calf production region. Although statewide the total Texas cow inventory gained about 20,000 head during 2008, it was short of the previous year's decline.

The National Weather Service's drought severity map was updated on February 5. That map now has the heart of Texas, from Kennedy and Webb counties to the south all the way into the eastern side of the Texas Panhandle classified as being in extreme drought. Areas of the state to the west are colored in yellow, which notes expanding drought conditions becoming severe.

Mid-February did bring light showers to many locations, but those scatterings were by no stretch of the immigration close to being the drought busting kind of rain so desperately needed. They were more "dust-settlers" in most locations, with only a few sites receiving amounts over a half inch during the second week of February.

As for me, I tried to do my best to "bait" the predicted 30 percent chance of showers in my part of the country. I left about $100 worth of range cubes uncovered on the back of my pick-up. I figured if that bit of temptation would bring a rain capable of soaking eight sacks of protein supplement, it would be a very reasonable price to pay for a desperately needed soaking rainfall event. It is now apparent that I have to find a lot more effective bait.

Hopefully, these more frequent shower occurrences are a sign of changing weather patterns that will soon bring rains. These rains would prevent serious economic hardship to the agricultural sector by replenishing the soil moisture, stimulating grass growth and giving rise to robust spring crops, as well as preventing widespread liquidation of breeding cattle in the weeks and months ahead.

Everyone needs to keep praying and using the best rain bait they have available.

Harvey Buehring is the former Agricultural Extension Agent for Nueces County. Readers may contact him at 767-5223.