All major grain-producing areas experiencing some level of drought
Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, email@example.com
COLLEGE STATION – Though grain crops in the upper Gulf Coast, Central Texas and North Texas started off this year with much better moisture conditions than those in the High Plains, it’s the “same old song and dance” there when it comes to moisture, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
“We need help from Mother Nature pretty soon to maintain yield potentials,” said Dr. Ronnie Schnell, AgriLife Extension state cropping systems specialist, College Station.
The upper Gulf Coast, the Blacklands and North Texas had good moisture at planting times, but most of the grain crop right now could really use a good rain, he said. Planting was in early March in the Central and North regions and mid- to late-February in the Gulf Coast area.
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Areas in the northern Blacklands have received a little more rain than the Central and Gulf Coast region, Schnell said. Crops in all three areas are still OK, but they won’t stay that way long without rain in the next week or so.
There were also some freezes that delayed planting in some areas, as well as some late freezes that damaged corn in the northern Blacklands and resulted in replanting of other crops, he said, but the real issue remains moisture.
According to the April 29 U.S. Drought Monitor, drought conditions continued to worsen in the Panhandle, Rolling Plains, South Plains and parts of Central Texas. West of the U.S. Interstate 35 corridor, the monitor rated drought conditions as “exceptional” or “extreme” over large areas.
“Over the past three months, the area of the state under at least moderate drought has increased from about 50 percent to almost 75 percent,” Schnell said. “At this point, all major grain-producing areas of the state are experiencing some level of drought.”
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 the week of April 28 – May 4:
Central: Winds and warmer temperatures dried out soils. Prior to the mid-April freeze damage, the best wheat fields were expected to produce 35 bushels per acre, but drought and freeze damage reduced expectations. Rangeland was in the worst condition since 2009. Clay soils were powder dry. Corn and sorghum needed a rain soon to make. Farmers were baling oats, wheat and ryegrass for hay in expectation of the drought continuing through the summer. Horn flies were increasing in cattle herds. Stock pond water was becoming an issue.
Coastal Bend: Soil moisture was mostly short, which was a concern for many producers. Hot, dry and windy conditions severely affected row crops during the past week. There was some replanting of cotton in the northern counties because of the mid-April freeze. Pecan growers were spraying for casebearers. Pastures were declining because of lack of rain, and stock water tanks were drying up. Producers were taking lighter calves to market early due to deteriorating range conditions.
East: The region was dry and windy, which lowered topsoil moisture. In Gregg County, demand for hay was minimal, but prices were holding firm due to shortage and continuing drought conditions. Warm-season grasses were beginning to green up in some areas. Producers were preparing hay fields by fertilizing and controlling weeds. Some producers were cutting ryegrass and clover for a first-round hay crop, making way for warm-season crop growth. Pond and creek water levels were good. Cattle were in good shape with prices holding firm. Producers were selling market-ready calves and cull cows. Replacement heifers continued to be hard to find. Spring cattle work was underway. Feral hogs were active.
Far West: The region had hot, dry and windy weather earlier in the week, with cooler temperatures later. Pecans were in the last stages of pollination. Fall onions were 50 percent developed. Cotton planting wound down, with 25 percent of the already planted crop emerged. Alfalfa had good stands. Cooler temperatures midweek caused farmers to hold off on planting sunflowers and cotton. Soil temperatures were still very low for this time of year. Approximately 70 percent of the mesquite showed freeze damage from two weeks ago, while the other 30 percent were blooming. Most cattle were still on supplemental feed.
North: Topsoil moisture across the region ranged from short to adequate. A few counties received 0.5 inch of rainfall. Titus and Van Zandt counties reported golf ball-size hail. Collin County reported that the mid-April freeze set back most corn. There were signs of leaf burn, but some of the crop recovered quickly. Cloudy weather and temperature variations were slowing hay meadow growth in Morris County. However, spring Bermudagrass was looking much better. Cool-season grasses and legumes are looking good as well. Livestock were in good condition.
Panhandle: The week began with extremely high winds and blowing dust, followed by hot and dry weather. Some areas received isolated showers. Soil moisture was short to very short. Farmers continued preparing for spring planting. Winter wheat was in fair to very poor condition. Corn planting began, as did some cotton planting. Irrigators were active. Some fields in Ochiltree County were being adjusted for crop insurance losses already. Cattle on range continued to required supplemental feed. Ranchers who did not have wheat to graze out continued to reduce cowherd numbers.
Rolling Plains: Windy, dusty weather was the norm. With extremely dry conditions and high winds, there were only a couple of days that the sky didn’t have a brown tint. Pastures continued to green up after recent showers and were expected to grow for a couple of weeks, but rain was needed for long-term improvement. Producers were replanting freeze-damaged cornfields and were cutting small grain pastures for hay. Cotton producers were holding back on planting, hoping for a little more moisture. Some ranchers in the southwest part of the district were facing their worst fear: a sellout in the near future. Not only were farmers and ranchers hurting, but town residents were affected as water shortages continued and water usage restrictions increased.
South: The region had mild to hot days with high winds but no rain. Rangeland and pastures continued to decline. Soil moisture was short to very short in every county. In the northern part of the region, corn was in fair condition, most cotton planting was underway, and oats were in poor to good condition, depending upon the county. Corn was tasseling in some areas, and sorghum was generally in fair condition. Potato harvesting began, as well as preparations for wheat harvesting. Ranchers began purchasing hay for supplemental feeding of livestock in Atascosa County as pastures began to brown. Supplemental feeding was also being done at a steady pace in McMullen County. In the eastern part of the region, producers began harvesting wheat and were expecting fair yields. Most corn was planted and in good condition. In Kleberg and Kenedy counties, all the cotton was planted, and 10 percent of corn had squared. Grain sorghum in those counties was planted and in fair condition. In the western part of the region, daytime and nighttime temperatures were cooler. Stock tank water levels were low on most ranches with surface water in Webb County. Ranchers there were waiting for rangeland to recover before restocking cattle and livestock. In Zapata County, daytime temperatures reached 90 degrees and cattle were grazing on brushy areas. Wildfires and grass fires remained a threat due to browning of rangeland and pastures. In that county, wheat and oat crop producers were expecting good yields. Also in that county, corn, sorghum and cotton were progressing well, and very light onion harvesting began late in the week. In the southern part of the region, high winds continued to dry soils. Cameron County producers were irrigating onions and baling hay. In Hidalgo County, the harvesting of sugarcane, citrus and vegetables continued. Starr County producers were also harvesting onions. In Willacy County, all cotton and grain sorghum was planted.
South Plains: Wind, blowing dirt and no rain made area crop producers very anxious. Some were preparing to plant irrigated cotton in the next few weeks, but there was no hope for a dryland crop without significant rain soon. The region has had 29 days of blowing dirt in 2014, with more forecast next week, compared to 14 days for the same period in 2013. Temperatures were still widely variable, with very warm highs one day, then dropping to near freezing the next. Hale County reported that a huge dust storm blew out sunflowers. Swisher County saw improvement in winter wheat due to heavy irrigation. Field scouting there reported immature pigweed, kochia and bindweed. Pastures were not providing enough grass to support many cattle. Pastures greened up a few weeks ago, but were currently beginning to show leaf curl and other signs of water stress. Livestock was mostly in fair to good condition with continued supplemental feeding.
Southwest: Hot, windy and dry conditions continued throughout the region with no rain in the forecast. Livestock and row crops remained in good condition. Grain sorghum and hay grazer were not widely planted due to low soil moisture. Peaches and grapes were doing fine. Peaches in high tunnels – hoop-style green houses – were close to harvest. Rangeland was very dry. Supplemental feeding of livestock and wildlife was still necessary.
West Central: The region had very dry, windy and warm conditions as the drought continued. Wildfire danger was extremely high as temperatures were expected to rise into triple digits this coming week. Wheat remained in very poor condition. Farmers were cutting small grains for hay that had been damaged by a late-season freeze. Most wheat was being grazed out. A small percentage of wheat was to be harvested for grain, but yields were expected to be very low. Limited subsoil moisture will impact cotton planting in the coming weeks. No summer annuals were planted due to dry conditions as seed was too expensive to chance that soil moisture will improve. Rangeland and pastures were holding up so far, though some fields were showing drought stress. Livestock remained in fair condition under continued supplemental feeding. Water supplies for livestock continued to decline.