Expert: Irrigated crops on the High Plains ‘all over the map’
Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE STATION – Though there have been some recent rains and irrigation pumping is in progress, High Plains corn and cotton is “highly variable,” according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
There are currently a number of factors making it hard to catergorize the overall condition of irrigated crops, said Dr. Dana Porter, AgriLife Extension agricultural engineer specializing in irrigation, Lubbock.
“There are several things going on,” she said. “First of all, for a lot of the state, especially the High Plains, we’re in the third year of drought. That presents its own problems, particularly where we have declining well capacities and regulatory pumping limits.”
All these things have come together to amplify the importance of increasing irrigation efficiency, Porter said.
Two-minute MP3 Audio of Texas crop, weather for July 16, 2013
For years, High Plains irrigators have been converting to highly efficient low-pressure systems such as low energy precision application, commonly known as LEPA, low elevation spray application, and subsurface drip irrigation,” she said.
“We have a very high adoption rate of these systems, and we have the technology to be very efficient, so mainly we’re fine-tuning the management these days,” she said. “For example, one of our strategies with corn under limited irrigation capacities is to plant fewer acres of corn and alternate it with a crop that uses less water.”
But irrigation in the High Plains is most always supplemental, according to Porter. It depends upon help from Mother Nature, and that help has been limited for years.
“As far as annual rainfall, we’re still way behind — about half what we should have,” she said.
There were some recent good rains that helped out some High Plains crops, and even gave dryland farmers a chance, she said. But the outlook for corn and cotton is still going to depend upon what growth stage of the crop, if it had a good foundation of soil moisture and if it had been irrigated well.
“On a case-by-case basis, at the field level, it’s all over the map,” she said. “We have some fields that are in pretty good shape and others that are really stressed.”
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: All crops, forages and landscape plants were stressed by 100-degree temperatures and the lack of rainfall. Forages, sorghum and corn were being harvested for silage earlier than anticipated because of extreme temperatures. Grasshoppers were causing havoc on hay fields and pastures as drought conditions continue to get worse.
Coastal Bend: The region had isolated showers but no significant accumulations. Some corn and grain sorghum was baled for hay due to poor potential yield and lack of other forage for livestock. Farmers who had corn and grain sorghum that made it to maturity continued to harvest, and were hoping soil moisture holds out for cotton. Sesame was blooming. Pastures further declined from the lack of rain and high temperatures. Ponds were low or dry in many areas. Trees showed signs of stress. Livestock producers in some areas were supplying supplemental feed, while others were relocating herds. Where hay was being harvested, yields were low.
East: From 0.25 inch to 2 inches of rain fell over parts of the region. Some counties remained dry. Many counties reported hot, dry weather. Hay production greatly slowed as grass regrowth declined. Pastures and hay meadows were drying up. Some producers were trying to find hay to buy, while others were feeding supplements as grazing deteriorated. Grasshoppers continued to be a problem. The Harrison County corn was not expected to make a crop this year due to weather and grasshopper activity. Lake and pond levels were receding. Cattle were in good condition, with livestock producers selling market-ready calves and cull cows. Demand at sale barns was good on all classes of cattle. Horn flies were abundant.
Far West: High temperatures and steady winds rapidly reduced soil moisture. Pastures were deteriorating for lack of moisture. Irrigated cotton was doing well, but dryland cotton was suffering.
North: Soil-moisture levels were very short to adequate. Little rain was received during the past two weeks. Pastures were in fair condition but were browning up quickly. Corn was in good condition as it entered the dent stage. Soybeans were blooming, and sorghum was coloring and doing very well. Rice and peanuts were in poor condition. Cotton was in poor to good condition with all the crop squaring. The wheat and oat harvests were completed. All sunflower fields were planted. Livestock looked good. Stock-water tanks were getting low. Horn fly problems continued to increase. Grasshoppers were a major concern in many pastures and hayfields.
Panhandle: The region’s weather was hot and windy with a few scattered showers. Accumulations ranged from a trace to a few isolated areas receiving as much as 2.5 inches. Soil moisture continued to be mostly short to very short. Producers were busy irrigating as daytime highs ranged from the 90s to low 100s. Harvesting of wheat was ongoing. Corn development was all over the board with most about a week to ten days behind normal tassel and blooming. Late-planted corn was in the six-leaf stage in some areas. Cotton needed more moisture to take advantage of the recent heat units. Cattle were in good shape.
Rolling Plains: Summertime conditions were typical for the region with temperatures reaching 100 degrees everyday and no rain. Cotton crops are looking stressed with the hot, dry weather. Irrigated cotton looked okay, with farmer concerns being well-water reliability, flea hoppers, grasshoppers and weed pressure. Corn was burning up from the heat. Grasshoppers were taking a devastating toll on crops, trees and shrubs. Rangeland and pastures were in fair condition, though in need of moisture. Hay is being baled and most has already been sold before it is baled. Water tanks were drying up.
South: Hot, humid and dry weather plagued the entire region, causing soil-moisture levels to decline, and damaging rangeland and pastures. Soil moisture in the northern part of the region dropped from adequate to 100 percent short, with the exception of La Salle County where soil moisture levels were 60 percent short. In the eastern part of the region, soil moisture conditions were reported at short to very short. In the western and southern parts of the region, Dimmit, Willacy and Maverick counties had various levels of adequate soil moisture, while others ranged from 70 to 100 percent short. One hundred percent of the corn crops in the Atascosa area have silked, doughed and dented, with 80 percent of the crop matured. In Frio County, corn harvesting began, peanut crops were entering the flowering stage and irrigation on peanuts increased. No crop conditions were reported for the eastern parts of the region. In Zavala County, producers had to irrigate cotton and late-planted corn. Also in that county, onion harvesting was completed, some early-planted corn was harvested, cabbage made good progress, watermelon harvesting was active and pecan growers heavily irrigated orchards. Pastures there were still providing grazing, but there was no new growth due to lack of rain. In Cameron County, cotton was progressing well while the corn and sorghum harvests were almost complete. In Hidalgo County, the grain sorghum harvest was ongoing. In Starr County, hay producers continued baling hay where possible. In McMullen County, forage quality declined and supplies were limited as soils dried out.
South Plains: Crops, pastures and rangeland were all struggling from the drought as highs reached into the upper 90s and above, accompanied by windy conditions. Insect pressure was light. Weed control has been the order of the day in some counties, as a few light showers during early July brought on a new flush of growth. Peanuts and sorghum were progressing well. A Lubbock County survey indicated about 40 percent of cotton fields lost to hail were replanted to grain sorghum. Early planted sorghum and sunflowers were blooming, and corn was tasseling. Only about 10 percent of cotton had reached bloom stage by mid-July. Irrigators were struggling to keep up with crop demands.
Southeast: Throughout the district, soil moisture ranged from very short to short. Corn was in poor to good condition, while soybeans were very poor to fair, and sorghum fair to good. Rice was in fair to excellent condition, and cotton poor to fair. Rangeland and pastures were in poor to good condition. Montgomery County had a few light showers late in the reporting period, but the showers did very little to alleviate drought conditions. Burleson, Brazoria, Waller and Walker counties had extremely hot and dry weather. Chambers County rice was progressing well as warm weather and long days made up somewhat for the slow start during the cooler-than-normal spring. Orange County was considering a burn ban.
Southwest: Dry conditions and temperatures in the high 90s and low 100s continued. Soil-moisture levels dropped and row crops declined. Grasshoppers were severe in some areas, damaging to hayfields and pastures. The sunflower harvest was complete. Livestock generally remained in good condition, but pastures needed rain to replenish grazing.
West Central: Very hot, dry, windy conditions continued. A few areas reported scattered showers. Cotton was off to a good start in most areas, but limited soil moisture slowed growth. Forage sorghum showed signs of drought stress. Hay harvesting was underway. Grasshoppers continued to be an issue in many areas, consuming large amounts of pasture grasses. The condition of rangeland and pastures further declined due to extreme heat. Livestock condition remained fair to good. Livestock numbers were slightly below average due to range conditions. More stock-water tanks were going dry. Some producers were selling off livestock due to lack of available water.