DALLAS — While most people typically think bright lights and big city when they think of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, agriculture remains a primary driver of the area’s economy, said Dr. Blake Bennett, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service economist in Dallas.
“The area’s temperate weather and available irrigation water are well suited to numerous agricultural enterprises, including various livestock operations and more than 25 commercial crops,” Bennett said.
More than 20 different crops are produced commercially in the metroplex, including a variety of fruits and vegetables and major field crops.
“The climate and soil conditions are particularly well suited to the development of high-value specialty crops,” he said. “Primary crops include nursery crops, wheat, corn, grain sorghum, hay, and ensilage.”
These and other interesting facts about agribusiness and agricultural production throughout an eight-county area in North Texas can be found in the recent publication “Agribusiness: The Impact of Agriculture in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex,” which is on the agency’s Agricultural Economics website, http://agecoext.tamu.edu/files/2013/08/DFWMetroplex.pdf.
Bennett said the metroplex is so well suited to agriculture that per the state’s agricultural census from 2007 to 2012, the number of farms and acres of agriculturaa-use land in the eight-county area in and around the metroplex increased by nearly 10 percent.
“This growth is in contrast to the rest of Texas where during the same time frame the number of farms increased by just over one-half of one percent and farmland actually saw a small decrease,” he said. “Also counter to state trends, farms of every size in the metroplex saw increases — the greatest being among smaller-acreage farms.”
During the same time period the rest of the state showed only an increase in the number of farms in size ranging from 10 to 179 acres, with all other size categories showing decreases.
“The owners of most of these small-acreage farms have primary jobs that are off the farm, but still produce enough to make a significant economic impact on the area,” Bennett said. “And the reasons for people purchasing small farms are as diverse as the metroplex itself.”
He said some small-acreage farmers want to grow organic produce while others just want to experience a more rural lifestyle or use their farm for agritourism or agritainment, such as providing festivals, hayrides, corn mazes or a pumpkin patch experience.
Bennett added those who own smaller farms, especially farms of 20 or fewer acres, are also more likely to grow alternative or “niche” crops than larger commercial farmers, and many small-scale farmers tend to focus on cattle and hay production as the most effective use of their limited acreage.
“While impressive, the figure still does not reflect the entire value of the agricultural industry in the region, as data limitations prevent the inclusion of public sector employees involved in agriculture,” he said. “Production agriculture in this region is as diverse as the communities and landscape within it.”
He noted while housing, businesses, roadways and other aspects of urban structure and infrastructure have grown significantly in the region, production agriculture has seen significant growth as well.
“While we don’t have figures for after 2012, it is apparent that agricultural production in this area continues to be on the upswing, and the trend toward smaller farms continues,” Bennett said.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
CENTRAL: Counties in the region reported 90 percent good soil moisture with the area receiving rains ranging from 1.5 to 2.8 inches. Range and pasture conditions were fair, as were overall crop conditions. Corn planting began and some producers were putting down fertilizer and weed control on Bermuda grass pastures. Stock tanks were full and cattle remained in good condition. Producers were preparing and planting fields with milo.
COASTAL BEND: Up to 2.5 inches of rain fell across most of the region, improving soil moisture conditions. Corn and some grain sorghum planting began. Some corn fields have emerged and a little cotton was planted. Wheat was in good condition and warm-season perennial pastures were growing. Some controlled burns took place. Cattle were in good condition.
EAST: Conditions around the region were cold and windy. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were mostly adequate with a few counties reporting conditions as short. Nighttime temperatures dropped to the low 30s with daytime temperatures in the 60s and 70s. Most of the counties received much needed rain with amounts up to 4 inches. Most counties were reporting pasture and range conditions as poor with only a few reporting conditions as good. Winter forage crops improved and the risk of fire danger was reduced. Producers were top dressing winter pastures. Fertilizer prices have come down. Some applications of fertilizer were being made on cool season annuals. People were preparing to plant their spring garden vegetables. Spring sprouting has begun on trees and flowers. Fruit tree pruning was underway. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Cattle were chasing the grass that has sprouted up, but there was not enough to sustain them so producers were still supplemental feeding. Spring breeding season had begun. Cows were calving. Selling of market ready calves and culls continued. Cattle numbers were still low but prices were slightly better. Feral hogs continued to be a problem.
NORTH: Topsoil moisture varied from adequate to short. Rainfall amounts ranged from about 1.5 to 2.5 inches. High winds and rain slowed down farming activity, and many corn farmers were waiting until fields dried out so they could plant. Cattle ranchers were trying to pull cattle off wheat and other winter annual pastures. Continued temperature swings caused stress with livestock, as it affected cool season forages and crops. Fruit tree buds were swelling and some were starting to bloom. Winter pastures greened up but had little growth. The mild temperatures were good for forage but questionable for fruit production.
PANHANDLE: Temperatures ranged from cold to warm. Some areas received moisture in the form of rain or snow. Potential wildfire conditions persisted throughout the region, slowing some farm work. Preparations were being made for spring planting. Winter wheat greened up but needed moisture. Dallam and Hartley counties were warm and dry, so activity picked up in the field as producers put down fertilizer and pre-emerge herbicides ahead of corn planting. Some pre-watering was being done. Supplemental feeding continued among cow-calf producers. Spring calving was underway and calves were getting off to a good start. A few weeds started to emerge in pastures, and cool-season grasses greened up. Wheat-pasture stocker cattle made good progress. Deaf Smith County producers also prepared for spring plantings. Pasture cattle were doing well, thanks to above-normal temperatures and adequate soil moisture providing excellent forage. Cattle on wheat were in good condition. In Hutchinson County, some weeds began to emerge and producers needed moisture for a good start on their crops. Wheeler County wheat needed rain and was showing some moisture stress, but cattle remained in fair shape. Many herds are experiencing lice problems; winter annuals provided some grazing in native pastures. Farmers began shredding cotton stalks and preparing land for spring planting. Range and pasture conditions varied from poor to excellent with most reporting good to fair.
ROLLING PLAINS: Rain fell across parts of the region with amounts ranging from 0.5 to 2 inches, helping the wheat crop. Range and pastures were in better condition though pastures still had dead winter grass and weeds, which could act as fuel for a wildfire. Livestock were in good condition and preparations were being made for row-crop planting. Cotton remained a concern from a market standpoint.
SOUTH: Temperatures throughout the region were warm during the daytime and cool at night. Rainfall occurred in some counties ranging from drizzling to heavy downpours, with the heavy rainfall brought by storms tracking across the region. In the northern part of the region, conditions were good. Rainfall from 1.5 to 4 inches, was reported throughout the area. Rainfall was accompanied by hail, which damaged spinach and potato crops throughout the area. In Frio County, wheat and oat crops responded well to the much-needed rainfall. Some of the southeast portion of the county received the lesser rainfall with the northern portion receiving the most. Range and pasture conditions remained mostly unchanged and in fair overall condition in McMullen and surrounding counties. Supplemental feeding continued at a steady pace but declined some as temperatures warmed. Cattle body-condition scores remained fair. Soil moisture was 100 percent adequate in the Atascosa and Frio County areas, 80 percent adequate in the LaSalle County area and 60 percent adequate in the McMullen County area.
In eastern parts of the region, range and pastures improved throughout Brooks County, even though conditions were generally very dry. Supplemental feeding continued at a steady pace. Two cold fronts swept through the Jim Wells County area, but no significant rainfall was received. Temperatures were milder during the day and colder at night. Windy conditions continued to reduce topsoil moisture in most row-crop fields. Jim Wells County had minimal planting activity. Some of the corn crop emerged with good stands. Additional moisture will be needed to help with row crops throughout the area and to improve forage quality. Corn crops in the Kleberg/Kenedy county area were also almost completely planted, and sorghum planting was underway. Soil moisture conditions were 100 percent adequate in the Brooks County area. Jim Wells County had 50 percent adequate subsoil and 100 percent short topsoil moisture. Kleberg/Kenedy County soil moisture conditions were 50 to 60 percent short. Range and pasture conditions were fair.
In the western part of the region, Dimmit County received isolated showers and Maverick County received some light rain. Coastal Bermuda grass continued in its dormant stage and was yellow, but will soon be ready for its first cut of the year. Weather conditions remained cool with only a small amount of rain was received throughout the area. Temperatures reached the 80s and 90s in Zapata County. Pastures remained green but with some visible stress due to the lack of rainfall. Strong winds, heavy rainfall and hail hit parts of Zavala County, causing damage to buildings and crops. Cabbage and spinach producers began preparing insurance claims for crop damage but the extent of damage was as yet unknown. The storms also damaged center irrigation pivots in some parts of the county. Livestock on native range and pastures continued to receive supplemental feed. Soil moisture conditions throughout the area were 50 percent short in Dimmit County, 70 percent short in Maverick County, 40 percent short in Zapata County and 100 percent adequate in Zavala County.
In the southern parts of the region, sorghum, cotton and corn planting progressed well in Cameron County. Of the crops planted, a minimum amount of grain sorghum was planted. Also in Cameron County, some harvesting of hay occurred in improved pastureland. Grain sorghum and cotton planting was active in the Hidalgo County area, as was the harvesting of sugarcane, citrus and vegetables. In Starr County, onion crops progressed well, beef cattle producers continued supplemental feeding and range and pastures showed signs of moisture stress. Soil moisture conditions were 60 percent adequate in Cameron County, 70 percent adequate in Hidalgo County and 90 percent adequate in Starr County.
SOUTH PLAINS: Recent moisture in Cochran County has improved subsoil and topsoil moisture in pastures and rangeland. Winter wheat dealt with fluctuating hot and cold temperatures while producers attempted to get ready for spring planting. Floyd County received rain from 0.3 to 2 inches, which will help winter wheat and make planting conditions more favorable. There was warmer-than-normal weather in Hale County and limited moisture was a concern. Wheat crops looked good and livestock were in good condition. Hockley County received an early rain so some producers were kept out of the fields for a few days. Lubbock County had good weather with light precipitation. Fruit trees began to bloom. Land preparation continued and area wheat fields were nearing the jointing stage. Scurry County received from 0.2 to 0.5 inches of rain.
SOUTHEAST: Soil-moisture levels throughout the region varied widely, mostly in the adequate to surplus range with adequate being the most common. Fort Bend, Chambers and Walker counties reported 100 percent adequate. Rangeland and pasture ratings were mainly fair to poor, with fair ratings being the most common.
In Walker County, rain replenished moisture levels. Cool-season forages such as clovers grew well and were looking good, as did ryegrass. Most of the region had excellent soil moisture for planting crops. In Brazos County, scattered showers provided 1 to 2 inches of rainfall. Corn producers prepared for planting. In Grimes County, rain replenished the topsoil moisture, but was followed by strong winds that may have prevented much of the moisture to be absorbed. Montgomery County received 2 to 3 inches of rain with morning temperatures in the 30s and mild daytime temperatures. Waller and Brazoria counties also received rain. Chambers County was drier, but still had enough moisture to initiate field work. Rice fields were being readied for planting. Fort Bend County received approximately 1.5 inches of rain countywide, which delayed corn planting but provided much-needed moisture to pastures. Producers were also preparing to plant grain sorghum soon. Livestock were in good condition.
SOUTHWEST: Recent rain from 1 inch to 4 inches helped with small grain and pastures. Some areas got hail, which damaged some leaves on forage. The colder weather was good for peaches. Some farmers began fertilizing. Supplemental feeding of cattle continued.
WEST CENTRAL: Most of the area received rainfall ranging from 0.5 to 2 inches, putting much-needed moisture back in the topsoil. Unseasonably high temperatures brought on spring-like conditions earlier than normal, but high winds continued to cause range fire concern. Some cooler weather and a light freeze set back some warm-season grasses and forages that had previously began to break dormancy. The winter wheat crop remained in good condition and showed good growth. Row-crop producers were plowing fields and spraying winter weeds. More rain will be needed before spring planting. Livestock grazed winter wheat and remained in fair to good condition. Some supplemental feeding continued and cattle prices remained steady.