The ‘D-word’ is being whispered in parts of the state, shouted in others
COLLEGE STATION – Though the overall percentage of the state is under moderate to extreme drought has continually dropped since September 2011, producers are beginning to worry that 2012 could be a repeat performance, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.
In many areas, drought recovery continued, according to this week’s reports by AgriLife Extension county agents. Producers were harvesting winter forages and small grains for hay to replace hay stocks depleted in 2011. Corn was being planted. Cotton farmers were either preparing to or starting planting, and farm ponds and stock tanks were filling up.
These signs of recovery, however, were confined mostly to the eastern half of the state, according to the reports and the U.S. Drought Monitor. Draw an imaginary line Wichita Falls through Forth Worth and south to Houston, and every county west of that line continued to suffer one stage of drought or another. Large swathes of Far West Texas have yet to come out of the extreme drought that started in 2011.
And even in counties where there has been substantial rains, there was concern that the reprieve will be short-lived.
“That ‘D’ word – drought — is being whispered in many corners around the county,” said David Winkler, AgriLife Extension agent for Bosque County, southwest of Fort Worth. “No one wants to say it out loud, but it is in the back of our minds as we watch plants on shallow soils turn brown from lack of water. It has been 30 days since our last significant rain event.”
“It is looking like Bermuda grass was damaged in the drought and stands will be affected after winter growth is removed,” said Randy Reeves, AgriLife Extension agent for Harrison County, north of Longview. “Conditions are getting dry again; most of the rain that we received last week and the week before was north of here.”
“We have missed the last few recent rain chances, and producers have become weary that the spring rains have halted,” said David Groschke, AgriLife Extension agent for Limestone County, east of Waco. “There is a lot of hay being rolled up and stored in anticipation of a hot and dry summer. Temperatures were already in the mid 90s by the end of last week.”
“Temps hit 100 — 104 on Wednesday — this week and it’s only April!” said Arlan Gentry, AgriLife Extension agent for Ward County, north of Fort Stockton. “Mesquite and weeds are only green stuff in pastures. All grass is old, dead, dormant, dry, etc. The drought is still here. Producers are still feeding what few cattle are left in the county.”
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 for April 23-30:
Central: The trend of above-average temperatures continued, and soils and pastures further dried out. Most small grains were harvested for hay or silage. Most hay was being stored. Grasshoppers were reported, and a big outbreak was expected without a rain soon. Some producers replanted coastal and Bermuda grass fields killed by the drought. Winter grasses continued to provide grazing, but were also depleting the soil moisture summer grasses will need to grow. Corn and sunflowers were growing very fast. Wheat neared being ready for harvest — two to three weeks ahead of normal. Corn, cotton, and milo producers hoped for rain in early May. Livestock were in good condition.
Coastal Bend: Lack of rain and above-normal temperatures in April caused soil moisture levels to become short. Pecan growers were spraying for nut case-bearer early this year. Crops in western part of district were very moisture stressed.
East: Dry, windy conditions and above-normal temperatures continued to dry out topsoils around the region. Most counties reported no rain. Hay producers were cutting and baling ryegrass and other winter forages. A short supply of fertilizer continued to keep prices high. Insects and diseases were reported on ornamental plants. Blueberries and blackberries made good progress. Feral hogs continued to be a problem for many landowners. Spring cattle work was under way. Fly populations increased for cowherds.
Far West: Most of the region remained hot and dry, and the risk of wildfire increased. Temperatures reached 105 degrees in some areas. Lightning in Brewster County started four fires, and burned more than 12,000 acres. There were also lightning- caused fires in Presidio County. The continuing drought raised the specter of further herd sell offs. Cotton farmers were planting, but in many areas, planted acreage was expected to be reduced because of the lack of surface water for irrigation. Already-planted cotton was emerging in some areas. Supplemental feeding of cattle remained a constant expense for ranchers that still have stock.
North: Weather was mild and dry. Soil moisture was short to adequate, but high winds were drying out soils and raising the potential for wildfire. Hay harvesting was in full swing, and producers were excited about quality and quantity. A wide variety of weeds were appearing everywhere. Oats and wheat are beginning to turn color. Many areas reported seeing the best wheat crop they’ve had for many years. Grain sorghum and soybeans farmers were planting. Cattle were in good shape, and spring cattle work was under way. Insect and disease problems were reported in some ornamental plants. Peaches looked extremely good. There were reports of armyworms, and feral hogs continued to be a major problem.
Panhandle: Record-breaking temperatures were reported in many parts of the region. Soil-moisture levels were from very short to adequate with most counties reporting very short to short. Many producers were waiting for more moisture before planting corn. Wheat was in from very poor to excellent condition, with most counties reporting poor to fair. Some counties reported that wheat was starting to become stressed due to lack of moisture. Some producers treated irrigated wheat for rust. Cotton growers began planting on irrigated ground. Rangeland and pastures were improving. Cattle were in good condition. Fly and other insect populations increased.
Rolling Plains: Though technically it was still spring, daytime highs reached 100. Cottle County posted the nation’s high temperature of 108 on April 25. Along with the heat, a dry spell set in. Soil moisture levels were very low, and producers were beginning to worry that 2012 will be a repeat of 2011. Pastures turned brown in a few days. Warm (hyphen) season grass stands were slow to green up because of damage by last year’s drought summer’s drought and lack of moisture this spring. Some cotton farmers stopped field preparations because it was furthering soil-moisture loss. Livestock remained in good condition, but without rains there won’t be forage to maintain their condition. Wheat producers expected to start harvesting soon. Peanut producers began planting. The Parker County peach and pecan crops looked good, but pecan case-bearer moths were showing up early in traps. Wise and Young counties reported major armyworm infestations.
South: Extremely hot daytime temperatures coupled with high winds began drying out soils. Most counties reported short to very short soil-moisture levels. The exceptions were Cameron County, which reported 55 percent adequate moisture levels, and Willacy County with 100 percent adequate. Pasture grasses were quickly drying out and turning brown. Livestock producers increased supplemental feeding of cattle. Hay prices also increased, and livestock prices remained at a high for all classes. Cattle body condition scores continued to be good to fair. In Atascosa County, the wheat harvest began, and grain sorghum looked good. In Frio County, the harvesting of potatoes and wheat were in full swing, corn crops neared the tassel stage and cotton planting was completed. In Jim Wells County, field-crop conditions declined because of the dry, hot and windy weather. In Zavala County, high temperatures dried out wheat very quickly. Producers there expected to begin harvesting by the first week of May. Also in Zavala County, onion harvesting began, cabbage harvesting was ongoing, irrigated corn and cotton made good progress, and pecan producers reported heavy blooms on all trees with no heavy insect pressure. In Hidalgo and Starr counties, the citrus harvesting was winding down, onions and watermelons were being harvested, and the cantaloupe, tomato and squash harvests began.
South Plains: The region had a record-breaking high temperature of 104 degrees on April 25 and wind gusts up to 50 mph on May 27, with rain finally coming on April 29. Unfortunately, pea- to baseball-sized hail and tornadoes accompanied the rain. Rainfall totals across the region ranged from zero to more than 2 inches. Wheat was being harvested for hay and silage. Producers were pre-watering and doing general fieldwork in preparation for spring planting. Some producers began planting corn and cotton. Most others will follow suit the first week of May. Pasture and rangeland needed rain in most areas. Cattle were in fair to good condition, and were still being provided supplemental feed in areas where forage remained limited due to the drought.
Southeast: Producers were baling cool-season annuals to clean off fields in preparation for warm-season grass growth. Pastures continue to improve because of additional rain and less grazing pressure as livestock numbers were down. Cattle condition was good due to the improved pasture conditions. Crop production looked good compared to last year. Ponds levels further rose with additional rains. Many ponds had increased weed pressure.
Southwest: Higher-than-normal temperatures and windy conditions caused shallow soils to dry out and crack. Winter weeds were burning up, and there did not appear to be much grass left in pastures. These conditions were once again putting pressure on livestock producers to find forage for cattle. Livestock remained in good condition. Most well-managed hay pastures were cut for the first time, but yields were low and weedy, and quality poor. Many field crops were maturing ahead of schedule due to the warmer temperatures and earlier precipitation. However, some crops were starting to show signs of drought stress. Forage sorghum and haygrazer planted early in March were about 3 feet tall and were expected to yield some good hay. However, these crops were stressed as well and in need of moisture.
West Central: Hot, dry, windy conditions continued, drying out soils and crops. Highs were already in the 100s. Wheat was reaching maturity fast, and above average yields were expected. Some producers were cutting and baling wheat and oat fields for hay. Others were preparing fields for cotton planting. Many were busy planting hay crops. Cool-season plants entered dormancy. Some warm-season grasses were showing heat stress. Weeds continue to hinder grass growth in pastures. Cattle remained in good condition. Flies became a major nuisance. Pecan growers were spraying and irrigating.