Texas crop, weather for May 3, 2011

cattle grazing wheat

With forages in short supply, many farmers were turning cattle in on failed wheat, hoping to recover some of their investment from grazing. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo)

COLLEGE STATION — Strong storm cells swept through parts of East and North Central Texas on April 27, bringing tornadoes along with some much needed rain, reported Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the same storm complex that gave rise to the tornadoes brought as much as 5 inches of rain to parts of extreme northeast Texas. Central portions of East Texas in the Tyler and Longview area received 3 to 4 inches.

2-minute MP3 audio crop-weather report for May 3, 2011
More common was the 1 inch to 1.5 inches that was received in parts of Central and North Texas and the Rolling Plains region. Parts of the Panhandle received a trace of rain to 0.5 inch, while the drought worsened in South and West Texas.

As the drought worsened in those areas, dryland spring crops were failing, and farmers were forced to delay or restrict planting of later-season crops such as cotton and grain sorghum, according to reports from AgriLife Extension county agents.

“The dryland wheat crop is very slim this year; some partial fields may be harvested, but with very low yields,” said Rick Auckerman, AgriLife Extension agent in Deaf Smith County. “The irrigated wheat is surviving with producers having very high inputs into these crops. Many producers are opting to wait on moisture before planting anything. Those that were planting corn on limited-water areas are looking at cotton or commercial grain sorghum in some cases.

“Cotton plantings are not far off, and there are stories out there that there is already some cotton in the ground. At $300 a bag for cottonseed, it would seem that producers would take more care than that.”

“Total precipitation averaged 0.2 inch for the county, which wasn’t much, but everyone is thankful for what we got,” said Ryan Martin, AgriLife Extension agent for Motley County, southeast of Amarillo. “This year’s winter wheat crop didn’t last long as there was absolutely no moisture for it to grow. Farmers are still trying to prepare acres for this year’s cotton crop, but they are having difficult times. Without any measurable moisture, fields are as hard as a rock and producers are having trouble getting a plow in the ground.”

“Lake and pond levels improved from the runoff,” said Rick Hirsch, AgriLife Extension agent in Henderson County, west of Tyler, who reported his area got from 1 inch to 4 inches of rain. “Hay supplies are still short, and producers are feeding hay and supplements. Grass was responding slowly to improving growing conditions.”

“We’re still super dry and windy, and still no measurable moisture since September in most areas of the county,” said Arlan Gentry, AgriLife Extension agent for Ward County, north of Fort Stockton. “Range and pastures are very dry, brittle and brown, and set up for a major wildfire.”

“Corn is still green, however it is only 3 to 4 feet tall and starting to tassel; wheat is stunted as well,” said Joe Taylor, AgriLife Extension agent for Atascosa County, south of San Antonio. “It will be interesting to find out what is really out there to harvest.”

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/.

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

Map of 12 Texas AgriLife Extension Service districts

The 12 Texas AgriLife Extension Service districts

Central: Producers who received rain were plowing and preparing seedbeds for cotton and sorghum planting. There was some slight hail damage to vegetable crops and structures from last week’s storms. There remained some counties that did not receive any rain, but had high winds and considerable damage to buildings and trees. Stocker operators were shipping cattle early due to lack of grazing and no rainfall.

Coastal Bend: Soil-moisture levels were critically low. The wheat harvest was under way. Crops were obviously moisture-stressed, and it was predicted yields will be greatly affected. Cotton stands were skimpy, except for some early planted fields. Grain sorghum looked better than other crops due to its drought-tolerance capability. Forages were extremely short, and producers were feeding cattle hay.

East: Most of the region received as much as 5 inches of rain, but nearly all counties remained behind on annual rainfall. In the areas that received rain, drought conditions were eased. Pond water levels were raised, and some producers were able to fertilize hay meadows. However, conditions remained dry overall, and more rain was badly needed. Burn bans remained in effect in most counties. Feral-hog damage continued to be reported.

Far West: The region was extremely windy and dry. Fires were reported in Crockett, Ector, Glasscock, Howard and Val Verde counties. The Rockhouse Fire in Presidio and Jeff Davis counties was 95 percent contained as of May 3. More than 300,000 acres had been consumed by the fire at the time of this report. Melons were planted. Pecans were flowering. Fall-planted onions began bulbing. The first cutting of alfalfa began. For the farmers who were able to plant cotton, the crop began to emerge.

North: Some areas received 4 inches or more of rain, accompanied by cooler temperatures. Two weeks ago, soil-moisture levels were short in many areas, but after storms, they were adequate to surplus. The heavy rains, high wind and hail damaged some buildings and crops, and downed some trees. Van Zandt County had severe storms and tornadoes that damaged more than 100 homes. The hard, fast rain greatly replenished pond levels, but came too late to help wheat. Oats did not look very good either. The rains also helped newly established pasture grasses and winter-annuals. Some small-grain fields that were very dry two weeks ago now have standing water. All corn and most grain sorghum and soybeans that were previously planted emerged. The planting of cotton and sunflowers was nearly completed. Some producers wanted to cut hay, but it was too wet. All livestock were doing very well as pastures greened up and started to grow again. The fly population was on the increase, and feral hogs were sighted in the late afternoons. Rangeland and pastures were in poor to good condition.

Panhandle: Most of the region received some rain, from a trace up to 1 inch. Soil-moisture levels were very poor. Wildfire danger remained very high. Dryland wheat continued to deteriorate; even where there was rain, it came a little too late. Corn planting was in full swing in most areas. Farmers were actively irrigating wheat and corn, and preparing land for spring plantings. Rangeland was mostly in poor to very poor condition. Cattle were in good condition with continued supplemental feeding.

Rolling Plains: Some parts of the region received rain, while other areas have not had any moisture in months. Palo Pinto County received 1 inch to 3 inches of rain and light hail. Fires in that county were 100 percent contained. In Palo Pinto County, 126,000 acres burned before the rain came. Parker County received from 0.4 inch to 2 inches of rain. However, drought conditions still reigned across much of the region. Producers were bailing failed wheat that was released by insurance companies, even though it was only making a half round bale per acre. Livestock producers were evaluating cattle condition and hay and forage supplies to attempt to make hard choices about herd reductions. For the first time in a long time, cattle prices dropped and producers were starting to sell down and not buying replacements. Ponds were drying up. Irrigated cotton producers were preparing to plant in early May, while dryland farmers were waiting for a change in weather patterns. Parker County reported that the pecan crop looked pretty good. Monitoring for pecan nut case bearer was under way.

South: Temperatures of 100 degrees and above, constant high winds and the lack of rainfall continued to stress rangeland, pastures, livestock and crops throughout the entire region. Declining forage quality and quantity forced livestock producers to supply more supplemental feed to help keep livestock in even fair condition. They were also liquidating entire herds while cattle prices remained favorable. Ranchers had to use water wells and windmills to provide water for cattle. Corn was only 3 to 4 feet tall but had began to tassel. Wheat remained stunted, and grain sorghum began to twist in the afternoon heat. In Atascosa County, most irrigated cotton had sprouted. Also in that area, peanut producers were busy pre-watering in preparation for planting. In Jim Wells County, row crops showed signs of stress as the topsoil moisture continued to decline. Sorghum began to head in Kleberg and Kenedy counties, but yields were predicted to be low even if there was rain soon. In the Zavala County area, onion harvesting went very well, cabbage harvesting was ongoing, and corn and cotton were progressing well. Pecan producers in that area were very busy applying water to their crops and scouting for insects. In the southern part of the region, citrus and vegetable harvesting continued, farmers were actively irrigating row crops, while dryland sorghum showed drought-stress.

South Plains: Conditions were very dry, with no significant precipitation. Temperatures varied from mild to hot to near freezing in some counties. Winds gusted to 30 mph and higher during most every day of the reporting period. On April 29, there were gusts of 68 mph. Burn bans remained in effect over the entire region, with some counties reporting new wildfires. Many farmers have turned their wheat in to insurance adjusters. About 80 percent of the wheat crop this year is considered lost. Pastures and rangeland needed rain. Because of lack of grazing, livestock producers still had to provide supplemental feed to cattle. Many farmers were pre-watering fields for a second time in hopes of planting soon. Reports indicate that soil is very dry to a depth of 3 to 6 feet. All aspects of agriculture were struggling.

Southeast: The drought situation became more serious every day. High winds continued throughout the nights, further drying out crops and soils. Brazoria County had zero precipitation during April. Many crops have not had significant rain since planting. Hay was being trucked into the area at a steady rate. Stock-water tank levels were dropping due to high winds and evaporation. The Liberty County wheat harvest was completed. Pastures continued to deteriorate, as were cattle.

Southwest: April was totally rainless, making it about 217 days since the last economically significant rainfall of 0.34 inch on Sept. 26. October through April was the driest period on record, with only 1.13 inches of total rainfall, compared to a long-term average of about 11.3 inches during the same period. The region has been on red-alert status as unseasonably hot temperatures, dry forages and high, dry winds increased the risk of roadside and field fires. San Antonio continued to be in Stage 1 water rationing, and Uvalde banned daylight landscape irrigation. A cold front and light rain May 1- 2 provided temporary relief. Irrigated spring wheat was drying down, but total wheat and oat grain production for the region will be greatly reduced as most of the crop was not irrigated and failed. Irrigated corn, sorghum, peanuts, sunflowers and cotton made good progress. All dryland spring crops failed. Pecan trees nearly finished flowering, and fruit set appeared to be mostly light. Orchards will need frequent irrigation for nuts to mature. Some winterkill in grape orchards was reported from the early February freeze. Sod farms and new landscaping projects required frequent irrigation. The harvesting of cabbage, lettuce and spinach wound down. Onions, cantaloupes, watermelons, green beans, potatoes and sweet corn made good progress under heavy irrigation.
Most pasture and rangeland grasses remained dormant and brown. Forage availability was well below average, and what livestock remained required supplemental feed.

West Central: Continued hot, dry and windy weather kept the danger of wildfire very high. A few areas reported rain, which was too late to save wheat but should help lower the danger of wildfire. In other areas, virtually no fieldwork was being done due to the extremely dry weather. Ranchers continued to provide supplemental feed for cattle, and stock-water tanks were at critical levels.

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