COLLEGE STATION — The drought continued to expand in Texas, stunting crop growth, delaying planting and putting additional stress on livestock producers, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.
As of March 22, the U.S. Drought Monitor ranked 29 percent of Texas as being under an extreme drought, and more than another 30 percent as being under severe drought. Overall, according to the monitor, 98 percent of the state is abnormally dry. More information on the drought monitor and its drought-classification scheme can be found at http://www.drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html.
At this point, there are going to have be some very significant rains to make a difference in the crop situation, said Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension program leader and associate department head of the soil and crop sciences department, College Station.
“We measure drought over a three-month period, a six-month period, a year and so on,” Miller said. “When you get a long-term deficit, it really takes a pretty good rain to move the needle and put you back into a normal situation.”
All crops have been affected by the drought, including irrigated ones, but wheat is the one that’s suffering the most right now, he said.
There’s been a lot of corn, sorghum and some cotton going into the ground on “pretty marginal moisture” in South Texas, Central Texas and North Texas, Miller said.
Dry planting is risky even during normal times. But during a drought, farmers risk losing seed and other production costs if the planting is not followed soon by rain.
For cotton farmers, this risk has been magnified by recent advances in plant technology, Miller said. Most of the cotton seed used today is transgenetic and may cost $100 or more an acre — as much as ten times what it cost in the late 1990s.
“So farmers are really reluctant to dry-seed — and I would be so myself — with what a bag of cotton seed costs,” Miller said.As for wheat, there have been numerous reports from AgriLife Extension county agents the crop is maturing too early, but this is a result of the warmer than normal temperatures and moisture stress, he said. Irrigated wheat is in better shape, but of the approximately 6 million acres of wheat grown in Texas, with only about 1 million acres under irrigation.
But very high wheat prices, higher than have been seen for years, means there is a real incentive to irrigate wheat despite high pumping costs, he said.
“By irrigated, it means they can put water on it at some time during the crop’s growing season,” Miller said. “It doesn’t mean they have all the water they need to finish the crop. And they may need that (limited) amount of water to pre-irrigate other crops such as corn and cotton.”
More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force webpage at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Central: The area remained extremely dry. The farming community became concerned that drought conditions were more critical than they earlier realized. Corn planting was nearly completed. Most corn and sorghum was planted in dry soil and needed rain before it could emerge. Cotton acreage was expected to be up from last year as planting began. High winds dried out soils. Pastures were green but growth was limited. Growers were planning to put in watermelon and tomato transplants.
Coastal Bend: The region had above-normal temperatures but no rain. As topsoil moisture dried out, some farmers stopped planting cotton and were waiting on a rain before resuming. Some cotton was replanted because of poor emergence after a rain two weeks ago.Rangeland and pastures needed rain as well. Forage was becoming more available but was slow to respond due to the dry conditions. Livestock producers were still feeding some hay to make up for the lack of grazing.
East: The entire region remained extremely dry. Unusually warm, dry weather caused rangeland and pasture conditions to deteriorate. Planting of new forages was put on hold due to lack of moisture. Stock-water tank and pond levels were dropping drastically and, in some areas, were down to record lows. Livestock remained in good condition with supplemental feeding being done — particularly by those producers without winter pasture growth. The spring calving season was ongoing. There were widespread reports of feral hog activity.
North: Soil-moisture levels were short in most of the region. Two weeks of high winds drained soil moisture, causing ryegrass and other forages to decline. Wheat and oats still looked good but were in desperate need of rain. Many farmers have started — and some have completed — corn planting hoping they will receive rain very soon. The dry weather made the corn planting easier, but that crop too needs rain. The warmer nights caused Bermudagrass and Bahia grass to begin to green up. Some producers were harvesting small grains and ryegrass for silage. Winter feeding of livestock waned. Peaches continued to look good. The insect population was on the rise. Skunks were plentiful, but feral hogs remained the biggest wildlife problem. There have been several reports of hog sightings on properties within city limits. Rangeland and pasture conditions ranged from poor to good.
Rolling Plains: Very warm and windy conditions continued to rule. Wheat showed signs of severe stress from lack of moisture. The same held true for rangeland forages, which needed rain soon to boost grass growth. Moisture stress appeared to have pushed wheat heading one to three weeks ahead of expectations. Some producers reported receiving insurance adjustments and crop releases on their wheat, while other producers were put on hold by the adjusters and might have to take the crop to harvest. Ranchers continued to provide supplemental protein to cattle because of poor forage quality. Stock-water tank levels were approaching critically low levels. Producers prepared fields for cotton planting. Some producers increased their cotton-planting acres.
South: The drought continued throughout the entire region. Soil-moisture levels were short to very short. Rangeland and pastures remained very dry and in poor condition, which caused livestock producers to further increase supplemental feeding. The lack of rain and persistent high winds caused forage quality and quantity to decline. Ranchers were selling cattle earlier than normal, but fortunately cattle prices were strong. Oat and wheat crop stands were in poor condition, with growth stunted. Corn growers completed planting, and most of the crop was already emerged. In the northern part of the region, potatoes were flowering. In the eastern part of the region, row crops were well established. In the western part of the region, growers had to increase irrigation of onions, wheat, spinach, cabbage, corn, cotton and carrots, which added to their cost of production. Producers there are still concerned with not being able to make a crop of cool-season grains and had to delay planting of dryland sorghum, corn and cotton because of the extremely dry conditions. In the southern part of the region, the harvesting of vegetables, citrus and sugarcane continued, planting activity wound down and spring crops made good progress.
South Plains: The weather was warm and windy. A few areas received light showers, but overall the region remained very dry. The threat of wildfire was high throughout the region, and most counties were still under burn bans. Livestock were still being supplemented. Wheat under irrigation was in good shape; dryland wheat was being adjusted out for insurance in some counties. Producers were pre-irrigating and minimal tilling, hoping they’ll eventually have enough moisture to plant. Public meetings were being held by the High Plains Underground Water District to discuss proposed regulations to allow residents to meet the desired future condition of the aquifer for our the area under the state water plan.
Southeast: No rain came this last week, and many counties were extremely dry. Wheat was not looking good at all. Some wheat headed out early when it was only about 15 inches tall. Rice planting continued despite of dry conditions. Pasture conditions continued to decline under the prolonged drought. The condition of livestock slipped, even though producers continued supplying hay and other supplemental feeds.
Southwest: Thunderstorms brought 1 inch to 2 inches of rain to parts of Bandera and Blanco counties, but the rest of the region remained very dry. High, dry winds continued to aggravate the drought and increase the number of roadside fires. Only very few small patches of bluebonnets, which are normally abundant at this time of the year, have appeared. The incidence of motor vehicle and wildlife collisions along roadsides continued to increase. Irrigated corn, sorghum and cotton fields made good progress. Rain will be needed very soon to allow dryland crops to progress. Growers were harvesting cabbage and spinach. Onions made excellent progress. Cantaloupes, watermelons, green beans and sweet corn were planted and began to emerge in irrigated fields. Most pastures and rangeland showed some signs of green but most remained dormant due to the dry spell. Forage availability was below average.
West Central: Warm, dry, windy conditions continued to deplete soil moisture. Wildfire was a big concern in all areas. Producers were preparing land for spring crops. Some producers were applying herbicides for spring-weed control on cotton fields. Dryland wheat remained in poor condition due to lack of moisture, but irrigated fields were doing well. Trees began to bud out and bloom. Rangeland and pasture grasses greened up.