Texas crop, weather for Aug. 13, 2013

Little Valley cotton to make it to harvest

In early July, dryland cotton between Rio Hondo and Sebastian in Willacy County showed signs of severe heat and drought stress. Under normal rainfall conditions, plants should have been almost waist high and wide enough to obscure the furrows between the rows, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Danielle Sekula)

In early July, dryland cotton between Rio Hondo and Sebastian in Willacy County showed signs of severe heat and drought stress. Under normal rainfall conditions, plants should have been almost waist high and wide enough to obscure the furrows between the rows, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Danielle Sekula)

Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, rd-burns@tamu.edu

COLLEGE STATION — While parts of the state have seen some rollback of the worst drought conditions, Lower Rio Grande Valley farmers continue to endure another year of extreme and severe drought, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

Brad Cowan, AgriLife Extension agent for Hidalgo County, said he’s lost count of how many consecutive years the region has suffered from drought, or of the losses incurred. Cotton producers, in particular, have had very “frustrating” years.

“It won’t take long for the cotton harvest to happen in the Rio Grande Valley this year,” he said. “There’s just not that many acres. For what did make a crop, it’s going to be a good year—where irrigators had some water.”

Traditionally, about half of Valley cotton and other crops are irrigated, according to Cowan.

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“We had a significant number of acres that did not get planted, where growers took a preventive planting on crop insurance for cotton and grain because irrigation districts told them they would only have one irrigation on their acreage for the season,” Cowan said. “Many growers decided that wasn’t enough to justify chance putting in a crop at all.”

Typically, in the region, “one irrigation” amounts to 6 acre-inches of water, he said. One acre-inch is equivalent to a little more than 27,000 gallons.

The drought has been particularly hard on dryland cotton farmers, he said. There was no soil moisture before planting, and there were no rains in time to bring it up.

“We did get scattered showers in May and early June, but they were too late for most of our row crops—at least for the bulk of them,” he said. “It did help some of the irrigated crop that made a stand and could take advantage of the extra moisture. But for the dryland guys, it just compounded their misery.”

This was because before the rains came, dryland crops were on the verge of being zeroed-out as they hadn’t even emerged due to dry weather, Cowan explained. But after the rains, plants emerged. And though fields still had no chance of making a crop without some very significant rains, by crop insurance rules, farmers had to carry it through the season.

Drought and international politics have conspired to limit irrigation water available to Valley agriculture, according to Dr. Luis Ribera, an agricultural economist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco. In Ribera’s 2012 study, lack of irrigation water and drought cost South Texas agricultural and agri-businesses nearly $400 million and resulted in the loss of almost 5,000 jobs.

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:

Map of the 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Districts.

The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Districts

Central: The corn and forage sorghum harvests were nearly completed, with yields reported as mostly good to excellent. Hay yields were good. Rangeland was greening up following recent rains. Grasshoppers remained an issue in some areas. Stock ponds were still low as rains were not heavy enough to yield any runoff. Sunflower yields were fair to good. In some areas, grain sorghum lodged—especially when it was planted following failed cotton—but for the most part, producers were still able to harvest fair yields.

Coastal Bend: Extremely hot and dry conditions prevailed. The corn and grain sorghum harvests were nearly completed. Rice harvesting was at its peak. Early planted cotton was defoliated, with harvest expected to begin within a week. Hay production was on hold until more rain comes. Supplemental feeding of livestock increased due to declining pasture conditions. Ponds remained low or dry in many areas. Trees continued to suffer from drought stress. 

East: Conditions remained extremely hot, dry and windy. Pond and lake levels dropped. Soil-moisture levels continued to decline. Panola was the only county that reported rain. The rain—as much as 2 inches—did little to improve soil moisture, but the runoff did benefit area ponds. Ranchers saw significant declines in area forage supplies. With little or no rain, pastures were drying up. Some producers were still trying to bale hay. Many East Texas counties were under a burn ban. Horn flies and grasshoppers continued to be a problem. Vegetable marketing slowed. Fall planting field preparations continued. Cattle were in good shape. Feral hogs were active and damage was reported.

Far West: The region had temperatures above 100 degrees, with showers bringing from a trace of moisture to as much as 4 inches in some areas. Irrigated crops were doing quite well, while dryland fields were stressed. Where there was rain, pastures were greening up. Horse owners were advised to keep horses vaccinated for sleeping sickness and West Nile virus. The southwest counties were under a river-flood warning.

North: Temperatures lingered in the 100s. Soil moisture levels ranged from very short to short because of the excessive heat. Corn was maturing and should be harvested soon. Grain sorghum in some counties was already being harvested, while in other areas harvesting was expected to begin soon. Sunflowers were also being harvested. Soybeans continued to look good. Livestock were still in good condition. However, they were beginning to show signs of stress. Grasshoppers became a big concern. Feral hog activity was high in Kaufman County. Forage growth was slow, and vegetables were suffering heat-related problems. Hay producers continue to cut Bermuda grass, summer annuals, and native grass hay fields. Without another substantial rain, many hay producers worried they might have already taken their last cutting of hay for the season.

Panhandle: Temperatures were near average for the week, but most of the region received rain. Amounts ranged from a trace to as much as 3.5 inches. Deaf Smith and Gray counties reported hail damage to crops. Deaf Smith County also reported winds in excess of 70 mph, with damage to buildings and a few center pivots. Corn was maturing rapidly. Insect pressure was rising. Sorghum and soybeans were mostly in fair to good condition. Cotton progressed, though many fields were behind in maturity. Some producers took advantage of recent rains to plant winter wheat. Rangeland and pastures continued to improve after the rains. Cattle were in good condition.

Rolling Plains: Conditions remained favorable for cotton with temperatures in the upper 90s and into the 100s. Even though the crop was late, it seemed to be coming along just fine. Some areas received some rain during the last week, but they were very spotty. With the lack of a good general rain, cotton farmers were thankful the crop was late and not setting bolls yet in the heat. Irrigated cotton looked very good. Cooler temperatures—below 100 degrees—and rainfall through August will be needed to help with boll set. Pastures were in good condition as some ranchers had not restocked herds and were giving grass stands the opportunity to recover. Pastures in some areas went dormant, but at least some level of recovery was achieved with the wet weather earlier in the year. The 100-plus degree temperatures and low soil-moisture reserves took a toll on sorghum. Lakes, ponds and stock tanks were still low. Grasshoppers continued to be a problem on rangeland. Water conservation still remained an issue for area cities.

South: Hot, windy, dry conditions and high evaporation rates continued throughout the region. Temperatures were in the high 90s to 100-plus degrees, an encore of the previous week’s weather. Soil-moisture levels throughout the region continued in the short to very short range with the exception of 60 percent adequate in Atascosa and Maverick Counties. Brooks County reported very light showers—just enough to settle the soil but not to benefit moisture levels. Hidalgo County also received showers, enough to halt the corn harvest. Willacy County reported 0.5 to 1 inch of rain. Throughout the region, rangeland and pastures drastically declined, and as a result, most ranchers had to continue supplemental feeding. Stock-tank water levels continued to decline as well. Cattle body-condition scores remained fair as a result of the continual supplemental feeding. In Atascosa County, 70 percent of corn and 95 percent of sorghum was harvested. Cotton was in fair condition, with 95 percent of the crop’s bolls opened. In Frio County, the corn and sorghum harvests continued, cotton bolls were opening, and irrigation of peanuts was ongoing, with some light foliar disease pressure reported. In Maverick County, corn and sorghum were doing well. Nearly all corn and sorghum has been harvested. In Zavala County, record-breaking heat and drought ran up production costs as cotton, corn and sorghum producers tried to keep irrigation up with moisture demands. Also in that county, 80 percent of corn and 40 percent of sorghum had been harvested. Most sorghum in Willacy County was harvested.

South Plains: Most counties received rain. Amounts varied widely, 0.1 inch to 1.5 inches. Cotton, peanuts, peas, sunflowers, grain sorghum and corn continued to mature. Producers were controlling a flush of weeds. More hoeing crews were being used this year. Most producers have experienced light insect pressure. Pastures and rangeland improved after recent rains. Cotton varied from cutout—final stage of cotton plant growth prior to boll opening—to a few fields still not yet in bloom. Grain sorghum ranged from the vegetative stage to coloring. Verticillium wilt was reported in some cotton fields. Rangeland and cattle were mostly in good condition.

Southeast: Though scattered showers provided some relief in some areas, overall the region remained hot and dry. Soil-moisture levels were very short to short. Rangeland and pastures were in very poor to poor condition. Corn and soybeans were in fair condition, and rice was in good condition. The showers greened up pastures in Montgomery County and other areas, but generally pastures were not in good shape for the region. Parts of Galveston County were the exceptions, receiving substantial rains. The rice harvest was expected to begin soon, depending upon the weather.

Southwest: Spotty, summer showers were received. Some locations reported nearly 1 inch of rain. Hot, dry conditions continued and led to a decline in rangeland and pastures, depleting forages. The grain sorghum and corn harvest was in full swing and people have started to plan for fall crops. Irrigated cotton made good progress. Dryland cotton was severely stressed. Burn bans were in effect. Livestock remained in good condition, though rains were needed for improvement of grazing.

West Central: Some areas reported scattered showers, but for the most part, days were extremely hot and dry with mild nights. The triple-digit temperatures stressed vegetation and continued to deplete soil moisture. Farmers continued preparing fields and fertilizing for fall planting. Cotton was maturing and generally making good progress. Hay producers continued cutting and baling operations. Average yields of forage sorghum and hay were reported. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to good condition. Livestock remained in good condition. Pecan growers were irrigating orchards.


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