Worsening drought is no April Fools joke
Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE STATION – As Mother Nature continues to play what seems like an extended April Fools joke on parts of Texas with ongoing drought, agricultural producers have some tough cropping decisions to make, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service crops expert.
“As conditions remain very dry across the Texas High Plains, producers are looking at crop decisions that reflect the drought condition,” said Dr. Calvin Trostle, AgriLife Extension agronomist in Lubbock.
According to the March 25 U.S. Drought monitor, about 67 percent of the state is in one stage of drought or another, with about another 18 percent listed as abnormally dry. These numbers reflect a substantial backslide from what appeared to be a mollifying of drought conditions as recently as a couple of weeks ago.
Download or preview a two-minute MP3 audio of Texas crop, weather for April 1, 2014
Faced with severe or extreme drought – in many counties now for three years running – producers will be looking at crops based upon crop insurance options, irrigation ability and expectations of rain, Trostle said.
“Farmers with irrigation will most likely plant cotton in the South Plains and a mixture of corn and sorghum in the Panhandle,” he said. “For producers who are dryland, they will probably continue to go forward with cotton. However, because of lower input costs, grain sorghum might be a better choice, especially if they choose to wait toward the tail end of the planting season, which is about a month later for sorghum than it is for cotton.”
Sorghum is highly drought tolerant, but so is cotton, he said. And in some cases, not only are the economic rewards for a successful cotton crop better, but crop insurance coverage for cotton is a little stronger.
“As you move northward into the Texas Panhandle, you’re more likely to see corn on the table as a cropping option,” he said. “Historically, for full-season corn that is fully irrigated, producers want to get it in by April or the first half of May.
“But what I hear from producers today is that if they are looking at limited irrigation, they may chose a corn hybrid with a shorter maturity and maybe plant late May into mid June – even late June if they’re south of Amarillo — just for the possibility of catching a late June rainfall and maturing the crop when the worst of the summer heat is over.”
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: Most counties reported fair soil moisture levels. Overall, rangeland, pastures and crops were in fair condition. Livestock were generally in fair condition. Pastures somewhat greened up in some areas thanks to a few scattered rains. Some counties reported high winds and hail. The planting of corn and sorghum was nearly finished in some counties. Cotton growers may plant soon to take advantage of available soil moisture. Beef producers were preparing to spray and fertilize pastures.
Coastal Bend: Most areas reported light rains. Cotton planting was slowed by cooler than normal temperatures. Most corn and grain sorghum was planted. Pastures markedly improved from rains over the past few weeks. Rice was being planted, and pecans began to break bud. Hay growers were fertilizing and spraying for weeds. Most stockmen discontinued feeding hay on a daily basis as grasses greened up.
East: Conditions improved throughout the region with warmer weather and adequate moisture — sometimes more than adequate moisture. Trinity County reported flash floods, large hail and wind damage from a powerful storm that passed through. Trees, homes and barns sustained damage, and some residents were without electricity for several days. The rain and warmer temperatures caused a big jump in winter forage growth, which allowed many livestock producers to reduce or completely cease supplemental feeding. Warm-season grasses also started growing. Spring calving continued. Farmers were preparing fields for planting of warm-season vegetable crops. Some fruit trees were flowering. Producers were applying weed control in pastures and lawns. Feral hogs were active.
Far West: The region had variable daytime temperatures, and some days with 40 mph sustained winds and gusts up to 50 mph. Cotton growers were pre-irrigating and cultivating fields. Alfalfa was growing but four weeks away from the first cutting. Fall-planted onions were at the four-leaf stage. Pecan trees were at the bud-swell stage. Mesquites and perennial grasses had not yet begun to green up. Cattle were generally in good condition, with livestock producers working earlier calving herds. Other herds were still in the middle of calving.
North: Topsoil moisture was short to adequate as a few counties received more than 1 inch of rain. There were also reports of hail in the more northern counties, but there did not appear to be any damage to crops. The region had warmer weather, with highs in the upper 60s and 70s. The warm days encouraged winter and spring pasture growth. Winter wheat was doing much better across the region. Corn planting was still in progress in most areas. Livestock were in good condition, with a little supplemental feeding ongoing. Feral hog activity increased in Titus County. Lamar County reported that green bugs were appearing in wheat, and producers were implementing control measures.
Panhandle: Dry and windy conditions continued, with temperatures near average most of the week. By the weekend, temperatures rose to above normal. Though most of the region received some rain, soil moisture remained very short. High winds from 30 to 60 mph coming after the rain dried out what little moisture that was received. Soil temperatures were rising, and producers were pre-watering corn fields and irrigating wheat. Pastures were in bad condition with winds blowing dirt. Supplemental feeding of cattle continued.
Rolling Plains: Limited rain fell across the region midweek, but a big windstorm took most of the moisture away. Subsoil moisture remained in some areas, but topsoil was becoming extremely dry and hard. Crops varied in condition depending on management. Wheat that was grazed was very short, while wheat pastures looked better where cattle had been taken off earlier. Mite infestations were reported in wheat. Dryland wheat needed a rain soon to have a chance at even making a close-to-average yield. Spring-planted crops needed precipitation. Peach trees were blooming. Hay was in short supply. Stock tanks and lakes needed runoff.
South: The region had scattered showers — some were light and others substantial, the latter especially in Kleberg and Kenedy counties. Nighttime temperatures were mild, and days had a little sunshine, which helped green up rangeland and pastures. In the northern part of the region, Frio County got about 1 inch of rain and McMullen County, 0.25 inch. The remaining counties only had very light rain without significant accumulations. Soil moisture was mostly short in the northern counties, except for Live Oak County with 70 percent adequate levels. In Atascosa County, growers were busy planting cotton and corn, as well as preparing fields for sesame. In Frio County, potatoes were in the flowering stage, corn planting was completed with most of the crop emerged, and sorghum planting continued. Wheat and oats were heading. Supplemental feed continued at a steady pace throughout the area. In McMullen County, cattle body condition scores declined somewhat due to increased nutrient demands during the calving season. In the eastern part of the region, Jim Wells County had light, scattered showers, while Kleberg and Kenedy counties received 1.5 inches. Soil moisture conditions remained short in Kleberg and Kenedy counties despite the rain received. Soil moisture was 100 percent adequate in Jim Wells County. Also in Jim Wells County, row crop planting progressed at a slow pace, and small-grain producers finished planting. Cotton planting was expected to start in that area next week. In the western part of the region, scattered showers were reported in the Dimmit, Zapata and Zavala counties, which improved range and pastures, and gave some relief for dryland wheat and oats. In Zavala County, cabbage harvesting resumed as fields dried out. Also in that county, corn and sorghum planting continued, as well as cotton planting, with 90 percent of the crop in the ground. In Maverick County, oats remained green and in fair condition. Webb County ranchers continued trying to rebuild herds but were faced with the high cost of replacement females. There was no rain received in the southern part of the region. However, temperatures were mild, which helped keep range and pastures green. Soil moisture was 90 to 100 percent adequate in Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties. Starr County reported 70 percent short subsoil moisture and 80 percent short topsoil moisture. In Cameron County, growers continued planting sorghum and cotton while already planted vegetables were progressing well. In Hidalgo County, citrus, sugarcane and vegetable harvesting continued. Row crops were progressing well in Starr County, and sorghum planting was in full swing in Willacy County, with most of the crop already planted.
South Plains: Hockley, Lubbock, Lynn, Mitchell and Scurry counties reported from 0.1 to 0.4 inch of rain received March 26. Unfortunately, high winds and blowing dirt over the next few days erased any trace of moisture. Winter wheat and pastures desperately needed significant rainfall. Producers were still preparing for the growing season, hoping for rain. Swisher County fields were being tested for wheat streak mosaic.
Southeast: Most counties reported adequate soil moisture, but a few counties had from 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. In Brazoria County, warm and dry weather allowed producers to increased corn and sorghum planting. Corn was already emerging. Cotton planting was expected to begin soon. In Chambers County, wet conditions resulted in very little rice having been planted. In Walker County, warmer days greatly helped cool-season forages. Clover, ryegrass and cool-season annuals were all producing well. In Orange County, temperatures remained moderate, and a spring growth burst of most perennials began.
Southwest: Light rain gave some relief to crops and pastures, and increased soil moisture. However, dry and windy conditions continued throughout the week. Temperatures warmed up, and vegetation was greening up. Most corn was planted and emerged. Peach trees appeared they might make a great crop, though it will be a little later than normal. Livestock conditions remained good overall. Supplemental feeding continued for wildlife and livestock.
West Central: Extremely dry, windy conditions continued, and soil moisture further declined. Temperatures were seasonal, with mild days and cool nights. Northern counties reported isolated scattered showers. The wildfire danger continued to increase. Farmers were cultivating and otherwise preparing for spring planting. Wheat was in fair to poor condition. Many wheat producers with livestock chose to graze out their crop. Small-grain fields were beginning to show drought stress. Some green bug damage in wheat was detected. Rangeland and pastures remained in poor condition. Some warm-season grasses and spring forages were greening up. Livestock remained in fair condition, and producers were working calves and continued to provide supplemental feed. Stock tank water levels and water tables were dropping. Pecan and mesquite trees neared bud break. Fruit trees were blooming.