Rains jump-start cotton planting, but deep subsoil moisture critical in some areas
COLLEGE STATION – The forecast for Texas cotton remains mixed, depending upon which part of the state you’re talking about, said Dr. Gaylon Morgan, associate professor and Texas AgriLife Extension Service state cotton specialist, College Station.
On May 15, Morgan had recently returned from the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Coastal Bend, and Upper Gulf Coast with an encouraging report. Recent rains in South Texas, in many places very substantial ones, had vastly benefited the recently planted cotton crop there, he said.
“Cotton in the Valley looked overall pretty good, with cotton just emerging to cotton already flowering,” Morgan said. “They had good moisture early and actually got a couple of showers when I was down there. They were pretty pleased.”
In the South Plains, High Plains and Rolling Plains, it could be a different story, he said. Growers there are just starting to kick off planting. All three regions have received some rain in the last couple of weeks, but generally it was just enough to help with planting and ensure the crop emerges. After an extended drought last year, and a dry winter and spring, subsoil moisture has been severely diminished.
“It is difficult to make a cotton crop without a full profile of soil moisture,” Morgan said. “You can get it up if you don’t have a full profile, but timely rains are essential throughout the (growing) season for dryland cotton and are important for our irrigated cotton also.”
By a “full profile,” Morgan means moisture present 3 to 4 feet deep, the average rooting depth of cotton.
Some widespread, very substantial and frequent rains will be needed to replenish deep-soil profile moisture “at this point, especially in Southern High Plains and western Rolling Plains,” he said.
Climatologists are predicting above-average temperatures and near normal precipitation for the High Plains, Rolling Plains and Southern Plains this summer, but there’s still a chance growers could make a decent crop, Morgan said, depending on some ‘ands’ and ‘ifs.’
“It just depends upon what happens from here on out if you don’t have that profile moisture,” he said. “If they’re planting now or even into the middle of June, and they can get the crop up, and if they get some timely rains now through the middle of the summer, they could still make a good crop.”
By timely, Morgan meant good rains at least every couple of weeks.
“Cotton can handle (dry spells) for awhile. And the other factors are going to be how much wind and high heat they have — the overall evapotransporation loss.”
On an average year, about 70-80 percent of the more than 5 million of cotton planted in Texas are planted in the High Plains, Rolling Plains and Southern Plains, Morgan said.
Lower prices for cotton have changed planting intentions this year in some parts of the state, but to a lesser extent in the western areas, he said.
“In 2012, we have observed a significant decrease – 10 to 25 percent — in cotton acres in South and Central Texas, with these acres replaced with more corn and/or sorghum acres in 2012,” he said. “This acreage shift is a due to good grain prices and declining cotton prices from 2011. However, as you move to Rolling Plains and Southern High Plains the crop rotation options are fewer, and cotton acreage probably will not decline a too much.”
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 May 7-14:Central: The region had some much-needed rain. Eastland County received two days of steady rain. Wheat was cut and baled in many areas. Forage sorghum looked good. Most small grains were green chopped or baled for hay. Grasshopper numbers significantly increased. Corn began tasseling. Stocker operators started shipping cattle. Some cotton growers treated for thrips, aphids and flea hoppers. Pecan producers sprayed for case bearers two weeks earlier than normal.
Coastal Bend: Most counties received significant rains, with some reporting damaging high winds May 10. The highest damage concern was for corn that had tasseled and the potential for problems associated with pollination. Accumulations ranged from about 1 inch to more than 4 inches. Sunflowers were blooming and sorghum was flowering. In Nueces and Karnes counties, pastures improved. Some producers harvested oats. Wheat yields were low — about 30 bushels per acre — due to limited moisture conditions when it was planted. Most of the oat fields were harvested as hay.
East: From a trace to 3 inches of rain was reported around the region. Pastures and stock ponds were in good shape. Hay was still being cut and baled. Many producers harvested more hay in the first cutting than in all of last year’s. Fertilizer was in short supply and very expensive. Cattle were in good condition. High numbers of horn flies were reported on cattle. Recent storms blew over many trees killed by last year’s drought, and clean up continued.
Far West: Highs were in the upper 70s to lower 80s, with lows in the upper 50s. From 1.5 to 4 inches of rain was received, lowering the danger of wildfire. Cotton planting in some areas was halted due to the heavy rains, but was expected to continue as soon as fields dry out. Following the rains, rangeland grasses showed signs of recovery. Ranchers were finishing shearing sheep.
North: Soil moisture was short to adequate. Some counties received from 1 inch to 3 inches of rain, but most remained dry. Pastures looked good, and producers continued to cut and bale hay. Early season hay, primarily from ryegrass, was yielding about three big round bales per acre. A few hay producers made the first cutting of Bermuda grass hay; yield reports were pending. Corn continued to look very good, and the wheat harvest was expected to begin soon with chances for excellent yields. Stands of corn, cotton, grain sorghum and soybeans were excellent. Peaches looked extremely good with no insect damage reported. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Fly problems on livestock increased. Feral hogs were still a major problem.
Panhandle: The region had cooler temperatures with some moisture reported. Precipitation amounts ranged from a trace to 1.5 inches. Soil moisture continued to vary from very short to adequate, with most counties reporting short. Corn and cotton farmers continued planting. The cooler temperatures slowed the growth of most crops, including corn and cotton. Warmer temperatures were needed to help these crops emerge and become established. Wheat was in from very poor to excellent condition, with most counties reporting poor to fair. Reports of wheat diseases increased in step with lack of moisture. Rangeland and pastures varied from very poor to good condition, with most reporting poor to fair. Cattle were in good condition.
Rolling Plains: Cooler temperatures and with rain in some counties brought relief to the region. High temperatures ranged from 70s to 80s. Rainfall totals were from 0.5 inches to 1.5 inches. However, not all counties received rain. The rain was welcome, but more was needed to sustain crops. The wheat harvest was in full swing, with yields varying widely, from 10 to 55 bushels per acre. Cotton producers began to plant on pre-watered fields. Many producers were very busy cutting hay from arrowleaf clover, oats, vetch, wheat, triticale, and some Bermuda grass. Pastures were in fair condition, as were livestock. The Parker County peach crop looked good. Pecan growers sprayed for case bearers in some orchards. The pecan crop was in fair to good condition. Fly and insect pressure on livestock and horses increased with the wetter conditions. Beekeepers reported large numbers of swarms leaving hives due to population growth, and nectar and pollen abundantly available.
South: After a long dry spell, rain fell throughout the region. Reports of 2-6 inches were common, with some areas getting much heavier rains. Willacy County received 7-12 inches. The storms delayed field activity in some areas, the harvesting of tomato, melon and other vegetables. In Zavala County, which received 4 inches of rain, producers finished harvesting wheat and oats before the storms hit. Crops such as corn and grain sorghum greatly benefited. High winds associated with the storms in Jim Wells County caused damage to fields and structures. Stock tank levels were replenished in ranches throughout McMullen and Webb counties, which were dried out or extremely low before the storms. Willacy County reported some hail damage on a few fields in the county’s north side.
South Plains: The region had cooler temperatures and widespread rains. Rainfall amounts varied widely, from zero up to 5 inches. For most of the week, high temperatures remained in the 70s with lows in the 50s and 60s. Producers began planting cotton, corn and peanuts. Many farmers were still waiting for more rain before committing to planting. Pastures improved with the rains but needed more. Cattle were in mostly fair to good condition.
Southeast: Waller County had light showers and cooler weather. Galveston County reported 2 inches of rain with more expected. In Burleson County, producers cut and rolled oats for hay. Scattered showers helped warm-season grasses throughout the region.
Southwest: All counties received rain last week, with some reporting 5 inches or more. The rain was accompanied by high winds and hail in some counties. Minor flooding was experienced at some low water crossings. The harvesting of onions, oats and wheat was delayed due to the recent rains. The rain also slowed hay production. Uvalde County implemented Stage III pumping restrictions from the Edwards aquifer. Field crops that were beginning to show some signs of stress seemed to be recovering due to the recent rains.
West Central: The weather was warm with mild days and nights. Much-needed rain fell in most of the region. Heavy rainfall and hail damaged some crops. The rain also delayed the wheat harvest. Summer forage crops were expected to be planted as conditions improve. Cotton planting should begin by late May. Some producers were fertilizing hay fields and continued cutting and baling wheat and oats. Rangeland and pastures improved with recent rains. Warm-season grasses were yet to recover from last year’s drought. Stock ponds and tanks were in good condition due to runoff from the heavy rains. Pecan producers sprayed for first generation case bearers, which appeared earlier this year than normal. The pecan crop was in good condition, promising high yields.