COLLEGE STATION – Though large parts of Central and South Texas received substantial rains, producers should be careful about planning as if the drought were over, said a Texas AgriLife Extension Service expert.
This is especially relevant for livestock producers who must rely on rain-nurtured pastures and rangeland, said Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension agronomist and a member of the Governor’s Drought Preparedness Council.
“My philosophy is to stock for drought and take opportunities as they present themselves,” Miller said. “In other words, keep your stocking numbers low, but if you get a year with a lot of rainfall, bring in some stocker cattle to use that grass but don’t push the limit on your stocking rates — ever.”
Miller made his comments in light of a recent forecast of not just another year, but perhaps even five to 10 years more drought, by Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist.
But even without the discouraging forecast, stocking for drought is still a good long-term strategy, Miller said.
“We’ve all just seen people emptying ranches,” he said. “Was that the right maneuver to begin with? We’ve had six major droughts in the last decade and a half. Do we really need to stock at those levels?”
On a more positive note, where there was substantial rain, farmers and ranchers will be encouraged to plant winter pastures, he said. Most of those who earlier planted into dry soils or after minimal rain will be rewarded.
But Miller still recommended a conservative approach.
“Take another look at it come top-dressing time,” he said. “Also, one of the key things to remember is we just came through a year of major drought. If we put fertilizer on the crops and forages last year, chances are we didn’t use much if any of it. Soil test and look at what kind of nutrients you have in your soil before you spend a dime on putting fertilizer out.”
Miller also recommended those crop producers preparing for spring plantings consider reduced and minimum tillage practices if they haven’t done so already.
“You can get your fields in shape, but one of the keys things I’ve learned while touring parts of the world where drought is even more common than here is to utilize surface residue to trap and hold moisture,” he said. “Take a second look at whether you really need to be plowing and turning moisture up to the air.”
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: Temperatures cooled, but trees and vegetation remained stressed from the drought. Many counties received rain, from 0.6 inch to 3.25 inches, which helped get small grains already planted up and provided enough moisture to finish planting.
Coastal Bend: Rain over the weekend provided much-needed topsoil moisture, but much more was needed to provide adequate deep-soil moisture. Some producers were plowing fields as weeds and volunteer seedlings begin to emerge. Hay was still expensive and in short supply, and, as a result, cattle producers continued to cull herds.
East: Temperatures were cooler, with scattered showers in some areas. But the showers brought little relief, and most of the region remained extremely dry. Producers continued to purchase hay out of state. Others culled herds in efforts to make it through the drought. Very few winter pastures were planted. Armyworms were reported in Cherokee and Smith counties.
Far West: Most of the region received from 0.2 to 0.5 inch of rain. Parts of Pecos, Ector and Crane counties got from 1 inch to 1.5 inches of rain. Val Verde County saw from 1 inch to 3 inches, and Lola Alta nearly 5 inches. The rain fell hard and fast in some areas, which led to more runoff than filtration into to the soil profile. All counties remained under burn bans. Ranchers began working cows. Pregnancy rates on palpated cows were lower than usual, probably due to the drought. Some producers were still selling down herds, while a few producers continued feeding. Pawnee pecans were being harvested. Western variety pecans began shuck separation. High winds from the storms blew off lots of pecans and broke small limbs. Cotton producers were spraying harvest aids and defoliants to prepare for harvest. Alfalfa growers in some areas finished their sixth cutting. The growers believed if days remain warm, they might get a seventh cutting. Onions growers finished planting. Winter wheat was planted.
North: Conditions remained very dry. Some areas received from 1 inch to 2 inches of rain, which helped alleviate dry conditions, but several counties were passed over. Some small-grain farmers continued to plant wheat into very dry fields in hopes of rain. Ranchers were also planting winter annual pasture grasses, gambling on rain to come. Lack of hay continues to be a problem, and livestock and horse owners were struggling to find enough to carry their animals through the winter. Producers in most counties had to purchase hay out of state, which was expensive. They continued to cull animals to reduce the amount of hay they will need through the winter. Another critical concern was that many ponds were dried up or extremely low.
Panhandle: Most of the region received from a trace to 1.5 inches of rain. The counties reported soil moisture as very short. The corn harvest was ongoing. Cotton producers in some areas were applying harvest aids. Some growers began to harvest cotton. Producers continued to plant winter wheat. In some instances, they were irrigating wheat in an attempt to speed up growth to provide grazing for cattle. Rangeland and pastures remained in very poor condition. Livestock producers continued feeding cattle and were bringing in more hay from out of region for winter months.
Rolling Plains: The region had several days of rain, with accumulations ranging from 0.75 inch to 6 inches on the more eastern counties. Prior to the rain, farmers and ranchers were racing farm equipment across fields planting wheat. The rain was definitely a blessing to pastures and rangelands. The areas that received more rain reported most stock tanks were filled by runoff. The runoff also helped to replenish reservoirs and lakes. Livestock producers hoped the rain was enough to stimulate the growth of winter weeds and grasses, which could provide some grazing through the winter. Early defoliated cotton was harvested. Other cotton producers were about two weeks from harvest. Feed reserves for feeding winter cattle were very short. Cow/calf producers were evaluating livestock, rangeland and hay conditions, trying to decide how many cows they could afford to feed this winter. The pecan crop was expected to be short, with nuts on the small side.
South: Soil-moisture levels ranged from short to very short throughout the region. Temperatures were milder during the days and cooler in the evenings. In response to the rains in some areas, rangeland and pastures greened up quite a bit, and most winter forages were doing better. But rangeland and pastures continued to deteriorate in many parts of the region. Many cattle were still being sold, and livestock producers continued supplemental feeding. Ranchers found it more and more difficult to find hay to buy. Webb County reported price increases of about $120 per round bale and $10 per square bale. In Atascosa and Frio counties, some oats began to grow, green beans were being planted and peanut growers were irrigating. In Zavala County, irrigators continued applying water to cabbage, carrots, spinach, wheat, oats and ryegrass. Producers in that area were also very busy planting more spinach, wheat and cabbage. Cameron County producers were irrigating winter crops, corn and milo. They were also actively preparing fields for the planting of the last of their fall crops and early spring crops.
South Plains: The cotton harvest was under way in most of the region. There was some scattered light rain, with most counties reporting a half inch or less. All crops were being harvested, and some winter wheat was being planted on dryland acres with hopes forecasted rain would be enough to bring it up. Some hay has been harvested and grass on some Conservation Reserve Program land was being baled. Producers continued to provide supplements to maintain body condition of cattle. Pumpkin producers were winding down harvest, reporting yields of about 50 percent of last year’s.
Southeast: Rainfall amounts varied throughout the region, with some counties receiving 3 to 4 inches. Other counties remained dry. No winter pastures were planted yet in some counties. Cattle sell-offs were ongoing.
Southwest: From 2 to 5 inches of rain fell across the region. The rain helped, but extreme drought conditions continued. Planting of winter grains and pastures was ongoing.
West Central: The region had warm days and cool nights, with much-needed rain reported in many areas. The producers who planted wheat into dry soils will benefit from recent rainfall. Most cotton and grain sorghum crops failed. Rangeland and pasture continued to decline, with no grass for grazing and no fieldwork being done for cool-season crops. Water remained very scarce. Livestock producers continued to reduce herds and increase supplemental feeding. Feed and hay costs soared. The pecan crop was spotty at best.