Winter Garden vegetable irrigation outlook okay but not great
Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE STATION –- While Hurricane Ingrid has been a terrible, destructive houseguest in eastern Mexico, Texas Winter Garden growers would have welcomed her with open arms, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist.
Most years, hurricanes and tropical storms are a mixed blessing to South Texas, but this year, with reservoirs critically low, heavy rains could have made a big difference, said Dr. Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Uvalde.
One of the leading producers of irrigated winter vegetables in the U.S., the Winter Garden area has been particularly hard hit by the long-standing Texas drought, he said.
While winter Garden vegetable farmers remain optimistic about this year’s crop despite the drought, the hope was Hurricane Ingrid would turn north and bring in moisture from the Gulf to replenish water levels, Stein said.
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“We actually got a little bit of moisture,” he said. “It’s been spotty showers, and it’s been more so to the south of Uvalde and west of San Antonio. We’re hopeful we’ll get a little more later in the week.”
However, a little rain, though welcomed, is not going to turn things around. Many rivers have stopped running, and though the Edwards aquifer still has “pretty good water,” regional farmers are facing stage 3 or stage 5 drought restrictions, depending upon where they’re located, according to Stein.
“Others are pumping out of the Carrizo Sands and that seems to be holding. And there are a few other wells that are also holding,” he said.
“As far as the outlook goes, it’s not good, but it looks like we’re going to have water to plant some crops starting in October,” he said. “There has been cabbage planted back in late July, the cooler weather has helped, and the brief showers have helped a bit too. We’re okay, but we need help.”
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 dry, so much so that some producers were having difficulty plowing their fields to plant small grains. Hayfields were productive with high yields. Cotton was making better than expected yields. Burn bans remained in effect in some counties.
Coastal Bend: Rain in much of the district stopped cotton and sesame harvesting. In areas that did not receive rain, harvesting continued and preparations for fall planting began. Pastures were improving where there was rain.
East: Drought conditions continued across the region, with only Henderson and Tyler counties reporting minor showers. Soil-moisture and lake levels continued to decline. Counties remained under burn bans. Many producers were moving cattle because streams and tanks were drying up. Polk County reported stock tanks were nearly as low as during the 2011 drought. Many livestock producers started feeding hay and/or other supplemental feed. Hay was still being harvested but was of low quality due to the lack of moisture, and many producers stopped harvesting. In some areas, hay supplies were fair to good, with sales increasing. Winter pasture planting was on hold until there was more moisture. Fall planting of vegetables also was on hold for rain. Cotton looked good. Producers continued weaning and selling spring calves and culling cows. Grasshoppers and feral hogs were active.
Far West: Parts of the region received from 0.4 inch to 4 inches of rain, with some flash flooding in the far southwest counties. Temperatures were in the high 80s to mid-90s with cool nights. Where there was no measurable rain, pastures were quickly declining. Most irrigated cotton still looked pretty good, with more bolls opening. Dryland cotton continued to suffer.
North: There was no rain in the past week, and hot, dry weather persisted. Soil-moisture levels continued to be very short across the region. Pastures were quickly declining. Livestock producers were waiting for rain to start planting winter pastures. All corn, grain sorghum, sunflowers and soybeans were harvested, with average or slightly above-average yields. Lake levels remained very low. Livestock were showing signs of heat stress. Grasshoppers continued to be an issue as were feral hogs.
Panhandle: The weather was hot and dry at the beginning of the reporting period but ended with cooler temperatures and some moisture. Precipitation amounts ranged from a trace to 2.5 inches. Producers were shutting off irrigation on corn and cotton to let the crops dry down for harvest. A few early planted corn fields were harvested. As it dried down, cotton was being sprayed for insects that were feeding on the susceptible crop. The harvesting of corn for silage continued; sorghum for silage was waiting to be harvested. Winter wheat planting was ongoing. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in fair condition. Livestock producers began fall weaning of calves.
Rolling Plains: Conditions remained hot and dry in most of the region, but temperatures started to inch down in the western counties, with highs in the 80s and lows about 70. Without any moisture, cotton was going downhill quickly. Cotton producers continued to run irrigation pivots to help the crop set bolls. Some fields showed signs of heat stress and began to drop bolls. A few cotton bolls are opening while some late plantings are still blooming. Pastures and rangeland were also showing signs of heat and moisture stress, leaving ranchers with only one option: Start supplemental feeding. Some producers had a small supply of hay, but that will not last long. Limited planting of wheat planting began. Most producers were waiting for cooler weather and more moisture to plant, though some producers were planting in dry fields, hoping for a rain to bring the crop up. Fall calving continued. Pecan yields were expected to be light.
South: Soil-moisture levels continued to be short to very short throughout the region. A few counties reported adequate soil-moisture conditions. More rain was needed to fill livestock stock tanks. Livestock supplemental feeding was still active throughout most of the region, though it was light in some counties such as Webb and Zavala. Rangeland and pastures improved in many parts of the region due to frequent showers. Cattle body condition scores remained fair. Atascosa County growers were harvesting cotton while peanuts neared maturity. In Frio County, cotton was almost ready for defoliation, and hay producers were busy cutting and baling hay during the week. Jim Wells County row crop producers prepared row-crop fields for planting. In Zavala County, cotton harvesting began, wheat and oat producers were actively planting, and pecans were developing well, with good to average yields expected. In Hidalgo County, some cotton had yet to be harvested and fall-vegetable planting continued as conditions permitted. In Starr County, producers were preparing fields for fall plantings. In McMullen County, 3.5 inches of rain was reported with a few areas of the county receiving about 0.5 inch. Jim Wells County also received about 3.5 inches of rain in some areas. Webb County received 0.5 to 1 inch of rain but only in some parts of the county.
South Plains: A couple of counties received from a trace to 0.25 inch of rain. All other counties reported warm, dry conditions. Crops continued to mature with light insect pressure. Some dryland crops, such as grain sorghum, were stressed and could use additional rain to finish. Most cotton was in the cutout stage, with some bolls opening. Producers will likely apply harvest aids to cotton in the next couple of weeks. Some producers were planting winter wheat, but the crop will need more moisture to come up. Early planted sorghum and sunflowers were being harvested, as well as corn silage. Much corn was in the dough stage. Rangeland and pastures were in need of rain. Cattle were mostly in good condition.
Southeast: Though some counties received showers, most continued to experience extremely dry conditions with very short soil-moisture levels. Rangeland and pastures were generally in very poor to fair condition. Limited rainfall severely limited forage growth and development. Madison and San Jacinto counties were the exceptions, with soil-moisture levels ranging from adequate to surplus, and their rangeland and pasture conditions good. Soybeans and cotton were mostly in fair condition. In Chambers County, the rice harvest was ongoing. The big rice-harvest surge slowed down, but there is still some first crop being cut. Late-planted rice had yet to head out. Temperatures became more moderate, and rain would help forage recover.
Southwest: Though there were scattered showers, dry conditions continued. Some rain brought localized relief, though armyworms were a concern after the showers. Fall corn was tasseling. Farmers were harvesting cotton and finishing harvesting other row crops. Burn bans were still in effect in some counties.
West Central: Hot, dry, windy conditions continued. Cotton was rapidly maturing and starting to showing signs of heat stress. Producers were preparing fields for small-grain planting; some producers were already planting winter wheat and oats. The corn harvest was nearly over with good yields being reported. The harvesting of early planted sunflowers and grain sorghum was completed. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to poor condition. Most pasture forages continued to grow slowly, with some fields starting to show signs of heat stress and declining. Livestock were in fair to good condition, though the hot dry conditions were starting to stress them as well. Some producers are having to haul water for cattle as stock water-tank levels were critical in many areas. Pecan growers were actively irrigating. Grasshoppers remained an issue throughout the region.