The Associated Press March 21, 2012, 5:17PM ET

APNewsBreak: Drought costs Texas $8B in ag losses

The driest year in Texas history caused a record $7.62 billion in agriculture losses, billions more than previously estimated, the Texas AgriLife Extension Service said Wednesday.

The new total for 2011, provided to The Associated Press before its public release, is about $2.42 billion more than an August estimate that had already topped the 2006 record of $4.1 billion in drought-related losses.

Texas is the nation's No. 3 producer of agricultural products behind California and Iowa, so when crops and cattle fail in the Lone Star State, prices can be expected to rise nationally, said David Anderson, an agricultural economist at Texas A&M University.

The state also has a long history with drought, which has cost it more than $14 billion in agriculture losses since 1998.

The latest drought has been accompanied by historic triple-digit heat and unprecedented winds that further parched the land and destroyed crops. Many ranchers sold off or slaughtered cattle after rangeland dried up and the price of hay skyrocketed. The state has its smallest herd since the 1950s after losing about 660,000 head during the drought.

Cattle account for about half of Texas agricultural production, which makes up 9 percent of its economy, Anderson said. It remains the nation's leading beef producer, but the estimated loss to the livestock industry from drought is $3.23 billion, up from the $2.06 billion estimated in August.

Cotton losses are estimated at $2.2 billion, up from $1.8 billion in August, and corn farmers lost about $736 million, up from the previous estimate of $409 million. The remaining losses were largely in hay production, wheat and sorghum.

If it rains, crops such as wheat, cotton and sorghum can quickly recover, Anderson said. Rebuilding the state's cattle herd will take longer because it can take years for pastures and grazing lands destroyed by drought to come back, and animals have to be bought or bred.

"We don't know how that's going to recover," Anderson said.

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