Praying for Rain at Sunshine Ranch (PHOTOS)

West Texas has been crippled by record drought since 2010. See pictures from one ranch in Amarillo.

Roberto Rodriguez for The Daily Beast

Roberto Rodriguez for The Daily Beast

"We've never been here before."

Phillip and Doris Smith have owned and operated the Sunrise Ranch in the Texas panhandle for half a century. The farm has been in Doris's family since 1906. They've seen plenty of dry years before, they say, but the drought that has burned across the high plains for the last two years, killing their crops and threatening their herds, is different. "We've never seen anything like this before," says Doris.

Roberto Rodriguez for The Daily Beast

"A dry-land man can't make it at all without Mother Nature."

Phillip Smith inspects a crop of forage sorghum, also know as hay graze. Like about a quarter of his neighbors, Smith is a dry-land farmer who does not use irrigation systems but relies instead on rain or snowfall for moisture. The drought killed his sorghum crop.

Roberto Rodriguez for The Daily Beast

"You've got to want to be a farmer to stay with it."

Phillip Smith looks through wheat left over from an earlier harvest. The Texas AgriLife Extension Service estimates 2011 losses on major crops and livestock caused by the drought at $7.6 billion. Add in damage done by wildfire, and the total is $8.5 billion. The cost of this year's drought in West Texas isn't in yet.

Roberto Rodriguez for The Daily Beast

High Plains Painter

The Smiths' farmhouse, where Doris was born and grew up, is full of her skillful paintings, including this portrait of her husband, which hangs in the living room.

Roberto Rodriguez for The Daily Beast

"We're pretty independent people."

There is no such thing as a typical farmer, but the Smiths, both 73, are smack in the middle of one demographic: farmers 70 and over compose the largest single age group among Texas farmers, numbering 57,227 in 2007. The number of Texas farmers under 25, in stark contrast, was 914. And between 1997 and 2007, the average age of a Texas farmer rose from 56 to 58.9, second in the nation only to New Mexico.

Roberto Rodriguez for The Daily Beast

Cattleman

Phillip Smith inspects his dwindling herd of red angus cattle. The drought destroyed his hay harvest, and the cost of hay and other feed has skyrocketed, meaning that he, like most other ranchers in Texas and now the Midwest, has the choice of thinning the herd or watching it starve. The Smiths currently have nearly 80 head of cattle, half of what they had before the drought, but they fully expect to cull the herd even further.

Roberto Rodriguez for The Daily Beast

Lakes as Empty as the Sky

An irrigated crop of milo, or grain sorghum, near the Sunrise Ranch. After the 1950s drought, Texas built 126 reservoirs across the state, and farmers also began installing extensive (and expensive) irrigations systems in the Texas panhandle, a practice that has gravely stressed the Ogallala aquifer than runs beneath the region, exhausting it completely in some places. In the distance is an energy-producing windmill farm, an increasingly common sight on the high plains.

Roberto Rodriguez for The Daily Beast

"Stewards of the Soil"

Doris and Phillip Smith at home. "We do enjoy being producers," Doris says. "There's a real sense of pride." "We enjoy propagating life," Phillip says, "watching our cattle grow. It's a business, yes, but it's also part of our lives."