Farmers fighting wind erosion and continued drought
Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE STATION – During the first week of April, parts of the North, East, Central and Rolling Plains regions received from 0.5 inch to 2 inches of rain, according the National Weather Service and reports from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel.
The rest of the state remained largely dry, receiving from a trace to 0.5 inch, which did little to stop the further encroachment of severe to extreme drought in some areas.
According to the April 1 U.S. Drought Monitor summary, nearly 67 percent of the state remained in one stage of drought or another.
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Though AgriLife Extension county agent reports from all of the Texas High Plains were dismal, those from the Panhandle continued to be the most dire, where the entire region was either under extreme or exceptional drought conditions.
Dale Dunlap, AgriLife Extension agent in Wheeler County, reported that dryland wheat farmers were already bringing in crop insurance adjusters. In some areas, irrigated wheat was suffering from moisture stress as well.
J.R. Sprague, AgriLife Extension agent in Lipscomb County, reported wildfires burned approximately 10,000 acres the past three weeks.
Throughout the Panhandle, high winds and extremely dry soils meant farmers had to fight wind-blown soil erosion.
In the South Plains, high winds were also drying out soils, but drought monitor ratings were less severe in parts of the region than in the Panhandle. Long-range forecasts spelled worsening conditions for that area too, according to Mark Brown, AgriLife Extension agent for Lubbock County. The entire region needs above-normal summer rains to pull it out of the drought, but the 90-day forecast is for below-normal rainfall, he said.
Nearly all the Rolling Plains region was also under extreme to severe drought, according to the monitor. Ryan Martin, AgriLife Extension agent for Motley County, said warmer temperatures have brought out summer grasses, but with zero soil moisture the prospects for growth are poor.
The most recent drought development has been its expansion in Central Texas. Since the April 1 report, the area did receive some rain, with about 0.5 the most common, while some areas got about 1.5 inch. The exceptions in the Central region were those counties to the east, which have shared some of the better rains the rest of the state have received.
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 had high winds, 0.5 inch of rain along with hail. Most counties reported soil moisture and overall crop conditions as being fair.
Rangeland, pastures and the overall condition of livestock were also largely rated as being fair. Oats and wheat began to head, though plants remained short, about 1 foot tall. Coastal Bermudagrass began to break dormancy. Most corn had emerged. Trees and other ornamental plants were in bloom.
Coastal Bend: Most counties received enough rain to start or continue with cotton planting. In fact, recent rains had many growers switching from planting small grains to cotton. Temperatures remained on the cool side.
East: Spring storms brought heavy rain across most of the region and caused flooding in low-lying areas. Vegetable farmers were actively preparing land and planting, though some fields were too wet to work. Pastures greened up, but cooler temperatures slowed growth. Some farmers were applying herbicides to control warm-season weeds. Producers were reducing the amount of hay and supplements being fed as cattle were grazing clovers, small grains and ryegrass. Cattle were in good condition, and spring calving was in full swing. Some producers were beginning to sell fall-born calves. Feral hogs were active.
Far West: The region had dry, warm days with high winds. Cotton growers continued preparing and pre-watering fields. Spring weeds were growing. Smaller mesquite trees were budding. Many perennial grasses were greening up. Livestock producers continued providing supplemental feed and tending to calving. Many ranchers feared they may have to further cull or even entirely liquidate herds if rain does not come in the next 60 days.
North: Topsoil moisture was mostly adequate across the region, with just a few counties still reporting short levels. Most counties received an inch or more of rain, with some areas also getting hail and high winds. Daytime temperatures remained in the 70s with cool nights. With the sunshine and rain, wheat and winter pastures began to grow and look good. Summer grasses began to green up as well. Soybean planting in Hunt County was nearly finished, while grain sorghum planting was in full swing. Lamar County reported corn planting should wrap up in the next few days, and growers would soon switch to planting grain sorghum and soybeans. Livestock also looked good across the region. There were further reports of hog damage from Camp County. Titus County reported the mosquito population was increasing and honeybees were swarming.
Panhandle: Throughout the week, the region had high winds, with gusts up to 60 mph. Farmers were plowing or using “sand fighters” — tillage tools that create dirt clods to resist wind-blown soil erosion. The continued drought conditions were blamed for several wildfires. Soil moisture was short to very short across most of the region. Producers continued to move on with fieldwork and prepare for spring planting. Dryland winter wheat continued to deteriorate. Some producers were bringing in insurance adjusters to evaluate fields. Some counties had fair wheat stands, while others reported mostly poor to very poor. Irrigated wheat was progressing well. While most cattle were being pulled off of winter wheat grazing, some were kept on and reportedly made exceptional gains. Pastures and rangeland were mostly in poor to very poor condition. Spring calving continued in some areas. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued.
Rolling Plains: From 1.5 to 2 inches of rain fell in some counties, with some counties reporting hail. However, most of the region only had cloudy days and a few sprinkles. Temperatures inched up closer to the 90-degree mark . Cattle were in fair condition as winter wheat played out. Producers were hoping for a rain soon to get pastures going. They continued supplemental feeding on a daily basis as hay supplies dwindled. Ranchers continued to rotate cattle to different pastures in an attempt to keep from over grazing grasses, but with the droughty conditions it was a losing battle. Farmers were preparing fields for spring planting, but blowouts caused by high winds forced them to go back over plowed ground a second time. Some producers were top-dressing wheat with fertilizer and hoping for rain. Fruit trees were in full bloom. Burn bans were in effect in several counties.
South: Conditions improved with warmer weather, though the region remained dry except for spotty showers in the northern and western counties. In the northern parts of the region, soil moisture was mostly short to very short, except for Frio County where it was 50 to 75 percent adequate. Potatoes were flowering, and wheat and oats were heading and generally in good condition. Overall, rangeland and pastures were in good condition. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued, and cattle body-condition scores were reported to be fair in some areas. In the eastern part of the region, soil moisture ranged from 100 percent to 60 to 70 percent short. High winds caused some crop damage in one area. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to good condition in Jim Wells County but poor in Kleberg and Kenedy counties. Weather in the western part of the region was mild. Zavala County reported 1 inch of rain. Soil moisture ranged from 55 to 75 percent short in Webb and Zapata counties to 50 to 100 percent adequate in Dimmit and Zavala counties. Webb County ranchers were busy planting haygrazer, while others were only providing light supplemental feeding due to very low stocking rates. Also in Zavala County, onions were doing well, as were sorghum, cotton and corn. Cabbage harvesting continued, and wheat and oats were heading. Rangeland and pastures were in good to fair condition. In the southern part of the region, mild weather promoted good crop development and improvement in rangeland and pastures. Soil moisture conditions were mostly adequate, except for in Starr County, which had 80 percent short soil moisture. Cameron County cotton growers had almost finished planting. In Starr County, spring vegetable and row crops were progressing well.
South Plains: On April 6, several counties reported rain, from a trace in western Lubbock County to 0.5 inch in parts of Swisher County. Lubbock County reported a low temperature of 29 degrees on April 4. High temperatures were in the 60s and low 70s, about average for the season. There were several days of gusty winds and blowing dirt. Sustained wind speeds averaged 25-30 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph. Winter wheat was suffering from drought conditions, and livestock had to be fed weekly. Hockley County reported pastures were in the worst shape they have been in years. Cattle generally were in fair to good condition.
Southeast: Soil moisture throughout the region varied widely, with most counties reporting it to be in the adequate range, but some counties reporting 30 percent very short to as much as 90 percent surplus. Rangeland and pasture conditions varied widely too, from very poor to excellent, with good to fair ratings being the most common. Livestock remained in fair to good condition with winter annuals actively growing where there was adequate soil moisture. Bermudagrass began to green up as well. Corn was emerging and actively growing, with the planting of sorghum and cotton continuing. In Chambers County, rice planting was underway. Dry conditions continue to expand across Brazos County.
Southwest: At the beginning of the week, the region had warm, sunny conditions that spurred the growth of cool-season grasses. Some counties received from 0.25 to 0.4 inch of rain with evidence of some hail. Fruit crops looked good but may have sustained some hail damage. Growers were wrapping up planting corn and grain sorghum, and some began planting cotton. Pastures slightly improved, but not enough to allow producers to cease supplemental feeding. Livestock remained in good condition throughout the region. Turkeys were breeding and nesting.
West Central: Warm, dry, windy conditions continued during most of the week. All areas remained extremely dry, and the risk of wildfire further rose. A few areas had isolated showers, but not enough to be measurable. Farmers continued preparing fields for spring planting. Lack of moisture severely affected all small grains, limiting growth and development, with many fields a complete loss. Wheat was in poor to fair condition, with some fields very short with spotty stands. Some producers turned livestock in on wheat because the crop will not be harvestable as grain. All forages and crops need rain for continued growth. Rangeland and pastures were slowly greening-up as warm-season grasses and forbs broke dormancy. Water for livestock was becoming an issue as stock tank levels continued to drop. The need for heavy supplemental feeding continued for all livestock. Spring livestock work was underway. Fruit trees bloomed, and all other trees were in the bud-break stage.