COLLEGE STATION — One of the worst droughts in the state’s history deepened, with nearly 98 percent of the state in one stage of drought or another, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
More than 90 percent of the state was suffering from extreme to exceptional drought, according to the monitor’s most recent report on July 5.
In many areas, irrigators were experiencing severe drawdown of aquifers — pumping only air in some cases. Producers in other regions were abandoning corn in order to have enough water to save cotton.
In most parts of the state, dryland crops have completely failed, but there were a few success stories, though they may only seem like wins by comparison to the rest of the state, said Dr. Dan Fromme, Texas AgriLife Extension Service agronomist for the Coastal Bend area.
Nearly all the corn, grain sorghum and cotton crops in the Coastal Bend area are dryland, according to Fromme. Though most of the region is classified as being under extreme drought, farmers there had the advantage of getting 4 to 6 inches of rain in January.
“We went into planting season with either a full-soil profile (of moisture) or maybe a little less, and that went a long way,” he said. “And the couple of inches of rain we received in May helped immensely.”
Grain sorghum and cotton comprise the vast majority of crops grown in the region, Fromme said. Grain sorghum has already been harvested, with yields averaging about 3,000 pounds per acre, compared to average yields of 3,500 to 4,000 pounds.
Cotton growers were either harvesting or preparing to harvest by July 12, he said. He expected yields to be about three-quarters of a bale per acre, which is about 65 to 70 percent of the long-term average.
“So, yes, compared to the rest of the state, we are a little bit better off,” he said.
Of more concern are long-range forecasts for the region, Fromme said.
“It’s not too promising in the future here,” he said. “From all the reports I’ve read for the upcoming fall, winter and spring, we could still be on the dry side, and I don’t know what we’re going to do next year if that happens.”
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:
Central: The region remained very dry. Livestock producers were culling herds because of shortages of forage and of hay. Stock-water tanks were getting low. Corn growers began harvesting. Very large numbers of grasshoppers were reported.
Coastal Bend: The region had above-average temperatures with no significant rainfall. Pasture and rangeland conditions remained very poor. Livestock producers continued to provide supplemental feed to cattle. Most ponds were very low or dry. The grain sorghum harvest was ongoing, and cotton growers applied defoliants to some early planted fields in preparation for harvest. Cotton was maturing very early because of the dry conditions and high heat. Forage and hay production was minimal.
East: A few areas received as much as 2.5 inches of rain, but overall the region continued to suffer from extreme drought. A minimum amount of hay was cut this season, and producers were culling herds and selling calves early in an attempt to hang on. Pond and creek levels further dropped. Fish in Henderson County were dying from depleted water-oxygen levels. Livestock were in fair to good condition with producers providing supplemental feed. Grasshopper problems increased in many counties.
Far West: Conditions remained very hot and dry. The pecan crop was light, but with good nut development and low insect pressure. Producers were irrigating crops up to 24 hours a day to keep up with water demands. Irrigated cotton was doing reasonably well, but showed signs of stress from low moisture. Dryland cotton failed. Rangeland forage was being depleting. Wildlife visited towns at night to feed on green grass in home lawns. Some irrigation wells were only pumping air.
North: May rains helped pastures, but after days of 100 degree and higher temperatures, soil-moisture levels became very short throughout the region. Deeper clay soils were in better condition than sandy soils. All crops and pastures were suffering. Most corn was harvested for silage and the rest was in poor condition. Most sorghum was also harvested for silage. Hay meadows were thin and sparse. Forage was minimal, and those producers that were baling their first cutting of hay saw a 75 percent decrease in yields. Livestock producers were feeding large amounts of hay, and some continued to cull herds while others were completely liquidating them. Chinch bugs in sorghum began to be reported in the last week. The oat and winter wheat harvests were complete. Cotton was in fair to good condition.
Panhandle: Conditions remained hot, dry and windy with no moisture for most of the reporting period. On July 11, thunderstorms swept through the area, bringing only light showers in most counties, but dropping as much as 3 inches of rain in isolated areas. Most corn remained stressed, with increased reports of spider mites and western bean cutworm. Many producers were abandoning corn due to the ongoing drought. Irrigators were considering diverting what irrigation capacity they had to fewer acres. Irrigation of all crops continued to be very active. Rangeland and pasture conditions were mostly rated as very poor. Cow/calf producers reduced herd sizes where possible, and continued supplemental feeding. Hay supplies were dwindling fast.
Rolling Plains: The extreme drought continued. Only heavily irrigated cotton made any progress. Very little dryland cotton was expected to survive. Continued triple-digit temperatures forced many ranchers to haul water to livestock. Other producers were selling cattle due to no grazing or water. Some producers lost cattle after moving them when water tanks dried up. In the new pastures, cattle died of water intoxication from drinking too much, too fast. Hay crops were poor. There were more wildfires in Palo Pinto County. In Parker County, the peach crop was rated fair, at best.
South: Despite earlier, heavy rains, soil-moisture levels throughout most of the region were very short. The exceptions were Willacy County, which reported 55 percent adequate; Hidalgo County, 70 percent adequate; and Cameron County, 100 percent surplus. With rangeland and pastures in poor shape and further declining, livestock producers were increasing supplemental feed to maintain livestock condition. Very low stock-tank water levels posed problems for livestock producers in some areas. Herd liquidation and additional culling continued as cattle prices remained high. In the northern parts of the region, crops under irrigation progressed, corn harvesting began with early yields reported at the county average, and peanuts entered the pegging stage. In Jim Wells County, harvest operations intensified as small grains matured rapidly. In Kleberg and Kenedy counties, the sorghum harvest was nearly finished. In Zavala County, early-planted corn was nearly harvest-ready, cotton was progressing well, the melon harvest was completed, and sorghum matured and was nearly ready to harvest. In Starr County, field activities were mostly halted by wet conditions.
South Plains: Many farmers began to abandon cornfields in order to divert irrigation to cotton. Most corn was being swathed and put up for silage. Cattle producers continued to cull herds because no forage was available, and sale barns reported record numbers of cattle sales. Aquifer drawdown has drastically increased, which indicated that most irrigated fields were living on borrowed time.
Southeast: The region has been extremely hot. Some areas had isolated showers, which greened up pastures, but didn’t initiate any substantial growth. Water diversion for the lower Brazos River Basin has been suspended for all uses except for municipal, water generation and livestock watering. The only available forage for cattle is grain sorghum stubble. When the rice harvest begins, rice stubble will probably also be used as forage. Rice was in fair condition. Ponds continued to lose water due to evaporation, and some had already dried up. The condition of livestock continued to decline. Cattlemen were culling cows, hoping to save enough to rebuild herds when conditions improve.
Southwest: Slight improvements in the agricultural situation from earlier scattered rains were rapidly dissipating. Overall, the region remained very dry and under wildfire alerts. However, the National Weather Service had forecasted a gradual turnaround. The sorghum and sunflower harvests were nearly completed with lower-than-average yields. The low yields were economically offset by excellent market prices. The grape harvest began three weeks early due to heat and drought stresses. Peanuts, cotton, pecans and landscape nursery crops continued to make good progress where irrigation water was still available. The watermelon, cantaloupe and sweet corn harvests were ongoing. The cabbage and onion harvests were finished. Forage availability remained well below average for this time of the year. Ranchers continued to provide supplemental feed.
West Central: The region remained hot and extremely dry. Wildfire continued to be a threat. The drought took a toll on livestock, crops and wildlife. All dryland row crops had failed. Irrigated cotton remained in fair condition. Rangeland and pasture conditions further declined, and there was very little grazing anywhere. Stock-water tanks were dried up. Some producers had to haul water for cattle, and they continued to cull herds. Whitetail deer were also suffering from the drought. Does were having problems carrying fawns to term. Prematurely born fawns were found; most were not surviving.