Drought further recedes but winter wheat still challenged in some areas
Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE STATION – Drought conditions continued to recede in Texas, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor and reports from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel.
According to the monitor, a large chunk of the state, comprised mostly of East Texas counties, had normal or better soil moisture levels. About another 28 percent of the state was merely abnormally dry, which means though soil moisture was low, the areas were either not yet in drought or were recovering from drought.
These numbers represent a large improvement from last January, when about 71 percent of the state was in one stage of drought or another, from moderate to extreme. However, many parts of the state still did not show improvement.
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The East Texas, Southeast, Coastal Bend and parts of the South regions reported good soil moisture conditions, which benefited winter wheat, oats and winter pastures. But for much of the rest of the state, dry, cold, windy weather continued to dry out soils and challenge winter forage production, according to agent reports.
“Winter wheat benefited from previous week’s rains,” reported AgriLife Extension in Martin County. “Sorghum harvesting is still going, with about 85 percent harvested. Producers are gearing fields up for upcoming cotton season. Weather has been really warm the last couple weeks especially for this time of year in West Texas, with a few nights getting below freezing but by midday jumping into 60s.”
In East Texas, moisture levels were good, but extremely cold temperatures set forage growth back, according to Aaron Low, AgriLife Extension agent for Cherokee County.
After a very dry December, the Coastal Bend region received some rain, which should generate new winter pasture growth, said Scott Willey, AgriLife Extension agent for Fayette County. However, many livestock ponds were still low and will continue to be so until a major rain event.
In the Panhandle, South Plains and Rolling Plains regions, dry conditions were still a threat to dryland winter wheat and rangeland forbs.
Rick Aukerman, AgriLife Extension agent for Deaf Smith County, reported: “No moisture in the area for a considerable amount of time is making the dryland wheat crop a distant memory — if we do not get help soon. The irrigated wheat is in fair to good shape with some stocker cattle out, but there are no appreciable amounts of cattle anywhere.”
While parts of the state received beneficial rains, the combination of drought and extremely cold temperatures may have done some damage to winter wheat throughout the Texas High Plains, according to Dr. Clark Neely, AgriLife Extension small grains specialist in College Station.
“Unfortunately, the High Plains received little of these beneficial rains, and wheat producers struggled to get their crop up and out of the ground this fall,” Neely said. “Drought-stressed wheat also had to endure frigid temperatures during the past month, which have some concerned about the possibility of winterkill on small wheat.”
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: Sporadic winter weather made crop conditions fluctuate. Some oats and wheat were damaged by freezing weather in December. Stock-tank water levels were getting low. Pecan yields were very low, averaging 350 pounds per acre.
Coastal Bend: The region was misty, rainy and cold most of the week. Temperatures were at freezing or a degree below at times. Growers continued preparing fields for spring crops where conditions permitted. Recent rains were expected to generate new growth in winter pastures and cool-season row crops. However, many livestock ponds remained low and needed runoff from a major rain. Some areas got from 1 inch to 3 inches of rain. Hayfield aeration tillage continued. Slow rains associated with fronts have brought slow drizzling rain to western counties. This made an excess of moisture on the topsoil for a few days. For some areas, December was extremely dry, and soil moisture conditions greatly diminished.
East: The region experienced very cold temperatures. Heavy frosts slowed forage growth. Some counties reported freeze damage to winter pastures. Soil-moisture levels remained adequate. Ponds were full, and some pastures had standing water. Preparation of fields for vegetable planting was hampered due to the wet conditions. Panola County reported abundant moisture, allowing a recharge of the aquifer. Cattle were in good shape. Producers were feeding more hay than normal. The calving season continued. Feral hogs were active.
Far West: Mornings were cool and afternoons warm. About 85 percent of grain sorghum was harvested in some areas. The cotton and pecan harvests were completed. Producers were readying fields for the upcoming cotton season. With pasture grasses dormant, ranchers had to provide supplemental feeding and large amounts of minerals.
North: Topsoil moisture was adequate across the region, with surplus moisture in some counties. The week started out very cold with a strong arctic front that brought drizzle and rain, which deterred most farming activity. Fields in several counties remained wet and mostly inaccessible due to muddy conditions. Wheat was in fair to good condition. Grayson County reported problems with wheat yellowing due to fertility issues and wet soils. Livestock were generally in good condition with supplemental feeding. Camp, Kaufman and Morris counties reported damage to fields by feral hogs.
Panhandle: Temperatures were all over the place, below average early in the week, near average in mid-week and above normal by the weekend. Soil moisture levels continued to be mostly short to very short. Hansford County reported 2 inches of snow Jan. 11. The cotton harvest was completed. Irrigated wheat was in fair to good shape. Rangeland and pastures were in very poor to poor condition, with most counties reporting very poor. Cattle were in fair condition with continued supplemental feeding.
Rolling Plains: Dry, windy conditions continued. The cotton harvest was nearly completed, and farmers were plowing fields and cutting stalks. Livestock producers were providing heavy supplemental feeding to cattle. Most early planted wheat had emerged but needed rain. Cattle already grazing wheat were doing well. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to good condition. The need for runoff water to replenish tanks and ponds was ongoing.
South: Cold temperatures continued, with light drizzly rain occurring in some counties. Freezing temperatures took a toll on rangeland and pastures in some areas. Throughout most of the region, livestock producers continued supplemental feeding of cattle on native range and pastures that had dormant forages. The northern counties of the region reported milder temperatures short soil moisture levels for the past week. Frio County potato growers began planting. In Live Oak County, winter wheat was progressing well, though some fields showed iron deficiencies. Cattle body condition scores remained fair. In Jim Wells County, soil moisture conditions were good for this time of the year. Crop producers expected to start planting mid-February. In the western counties, the weather was much colder. A hard freeze took what little perennial grass remained in Dimmit County rangeland. Webb County reported temperatures in the mid-30s early in the week accompanied with light rain. Freezing temperatures were also reported in the Zapata County area, where dry conditions prompted producers with irrigation capabilities to water cabbage, spinach and onions. Fresh market spinach harvesting was also active in that county in response to market demands. In the southern part of the region, citrus harvesting continued in the Hidalgo County area. Starr County reported freezing temperatures, but fortunately, winter vegetables were not affected by the freeze. Willacy County got lots of rain along with the cold weather. Wet field conditions there prevented sorghum producers from starting planting.
South Plains: The region remained very dry. Because of high winds and no rain, the National Weather Service issued fire warnings for the region over the weekend. Winds reached 45 mph on Jan. 10, and the region had its first sandstorm of the year. The weather was a roller coaster ride for the past month. On Jan. 6, lows were in the single digits with highs barely reaching the freezing mark. By Jan. 12, highs were in the 70s. Most counties were still reporting drought conditions. The exception was Crosby County, which reported “decent” soil moisture levels. The 2013 precipitation total for Lubbock County was 12.6 inches—about 5 inches below average. Most cotton was harvested, with only a few gins still running. Winter wheat, pastures and rangeland continued to be in poor to fair condition. Many farmers were grazing cattle on wheat where possible, as well as cotton stalks and grain stubble. Producers were doing general fieldwork to prepare for spring planting, including stalk shredding, bed shaping and tilling.
Southeast: Cold weather came to the region, along with varying amounts of rain in many areas. Soil moisture levels throughout the region varied widely, mostly in the adequate range, with some counties reporting from 30 to 80 percent surplus. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, from poor to excellent, with fair to good ratings being the most common. In Galveston County, unusually cold weather may have set new record seasonal lows. In Madison County, the tank and river levels were high from rain runoff. Erosion of dams and rangeland has occurred throughout the county causing some issues that will need to be addressed to maintain stock-tank viability. Before the rains, standing water in pastures and rangeland had drained, but afterwards fields were fully saturated again. Chambers County got 0.5 inch of rain; Lee County 0.25. Madison County received good rains that helped soil moisture levels, but total rainfall was still behind average. Brazoria County had been somewhat dry for the past two or three weeks, but the recent rains helped a lot. Livestock there were in good condition. Row crop producers were fertilizing fields after the rains. Orange County had significant rains and warmer weather after the freezing temperatures. Forage conditions remained poor. In Montgomery County, wheat and oats looked good due to continued moisture. Pecan yields were minimal, and pasture conditions remain steady. In Brazos County, row crop producers were doing fieldwork. Cool-season forages there were in good condition, which meant producers only had to feed limited hay. In Waller County the arctic cold spell left many farmers scrambling to put out hay. Some farmers may run short on hay this year. Chambers County producers were feeding large quantities of hay, though supplies there remained strong. The cattle in Chambers County were being fed hay in large quantities. Hay supplies were still readily available there too.
Southwest: Warm temperatures were welcomed after an arctic front earlier in the week that brought temperatures down into the teens and caused minor plumbing issues in some areas. A few counties received rain, from light drizzles to 2 inches. Overall, the region needed more rain to improve soil moisture levels. Winter wheat and oats were in good condition and performing strongly. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued. By all accounts, the deer hunting season was a success with decent racks and heavy weights recorded.
West Central: The region had very cold temperatures early in the week, followed by warmer weather with mild, windy days and cold nights. The windy conditions continued to dry out soils. Rain was needed by rangeland and crops in all areas. The cotton harvest was mostly completed. Early planted wheat looked good, though both wheat and oat fields were starting to show signs of moisture stress. Wheat was mostly in fair to poor condition. Rangeland and pastures were also in poor condition. Winter weeds, grasses and forbs were all declining. Livestock remained in fair to good condition with continued supplemental feeding of hay and protein. Yearling cattle on grain were doing great.