Texas Crop and Weather Report — March 21

Early spring conditions could extend growing season for bedding plant growers

COLLEGE STATION – Early spring conditions may have disrupted bedding plant producer schedules, but milder-than-normal conditions could mean an extended growing season, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service economist.

The Azalea and Spring Flower Trail in Tyler, which showcases many species of bedding plants and draws thousands of flower enthusiasts, is still days from beginning, but many plant blooms are peaking or peaked weeks ago due to early spring conditions. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Adam Russell)

Dr. Charlie Hall, professor of horticulture, College Station, said early spring conditions for Texas and much of the southeastern U.S. and Central Midwest have pushed the typical schedules ahead for bedding plant growers.

The problem for some midwestern areas is that temperatures could be in the 80s one day and well below freezing the next, Hall said.

The roller coaster temperatures played havoc on retail stores and suppliers, he said. Retailers tried to avoid receiving plants too early, but consumer demand amid spring-like conditions led many to supply products despite possible freezes.

“Stores have been holding off as much as possible to reduce consumer complaints,” he said. “They don’t want to have products out that might be stunted or killed by a freeze as soon as people get them home or right after they’re planted.”

Producers expect to have their plants ready for shipment to stores within a week or two-week window,  and the weather has pushed those schedules forward, he said. There are many time-sensitive factors at play within the production and supply chain that Mother Nature has altered.

“They usually want to meet specific schedules so you don’t have plants sitting, getting long in the tooth and possibly being placed as a mark-down item,” Hall said. “But then you have plants that are placed early and were purchased and a cold front kills or stunts them. The return policy at some stores places the responsibility on the grower, so the early spring could be a double whammy.”

Poor performing plants or plant kills could discourage homeowners from purchasing replacements or planting other varieties later in the season, Hall said.

But Hall said he is optimistic that consumer confidence and the early spring could be a great combination for producers and the bedding plant, ornamental and tree industries.

Early spring conditions could extend the growing season to allow another eight-week crop, if weather conditions allow, Hall said. Timely rains beyond mid-May and a mild June would be good for producers hoping to capitalize on the extended growing season.

Hall said the consumer confidence is high, and shoppers are willing to spend and take on debt at pre-recession levels.

“That’s why I am bullish on bedding plants, ornamentals and trees,” he said. “The earlier-than-usual season could be disruptive, but it could also be an opportunity. The question will be weather and whether growers can extend the season another crop.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

CENTRAL: Counties reported warm and windy conditions that caused the soil to dry out. Planting and other field work was well underway. However, fields in all counties will eventually need more moisture. Spraying and fertilizing were occurring on hay fields. Farmers were nearly through planting corn, and some corn fields were beginning to emerge with more sun and warm weather. Sorghum was not far behind. Trees were beginning to bud out, except pecan trees and older mesquite trees. Wheat was beginning to head out. Rust continued to be an issue. Pasture and hay meadow conditions were improving as warmer weather persisted. Cattle body conditions remained good, and stock tanks were full. High temperatures reached into the mid-80s with a low chance of rain in the forecast. Most counties reported good soil moisture. Overall, livestock, crop and range and pasture conditions were good.

ROLLING PLAINS: Spring weather set in with daytime temperatures reaching into the 70s. Residents were taking advantage of the weather and doing yard work and gardening. Although the temperatures were pleasant, soil moisture content was beginning to diminish. With no moisture over the past several weeks, topsoil moisture was at or near zero and subsoil moisture was close behind. Grasses were beginning to come out and pastures were greening up, but the district needed a good general rainfall. Wildfires up north reminded landowners of the importance of keeping fireguards around pastures, and several began clearing these guards. While pastures and rangeland were slowly turning green, there was still an abundance of overgrown dead forage that could cause problems in the event of a fire. Livestock were in good condition with supplemental feeding taking place. Spring calving was still underway. Cotton ground was being prepared but will need considerable moisture in the near future. Limited canola acreage was in early stages of bloom. Some producers may start planting corn soon. Producers continued to report increased damage from wild hogs.

COASTAL BEND: Most soils were still saturated from recent rains. Row-crop planting continued as soil dried enough to allow producers to get into fields. Corn was planted and was being replanted where needed due to heavy rainfalls. Most cotton was planted and emerged. Sorghum was being planted. Most rice fields were prepared and ready for planting. Cattle were in good condition with minimal hay supplementation.

EAST: Temperatures were mild and warming around the region. Most counties reported fair to good conditions. Farmers were preparing to plant their gardens. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were mostly adequate. Diseases were being seen on some plants. A few small showers fell in Trinity County, allowing grass to grow, but more rain was needed. Drier, windier weather allowed ground to dry out from some of the saturation in Houston County. Pasture and range conditions were excellent in Rusk and Gregg counties but poor in Newton and Shelby counties. Upshur County producers were spraying winter weeds and applying fertilizer for summer forages. Plants were in full bloom in Marion County. In Smith County, soil tests were being performed on lawns, gardens and pastures. Warm-season grasses were emerging. Most producers stopped supplemental feeding. Livestock conditions remained mostly good. Spring calving continued in Polk County with a good crop of calves on the ground. Most producers turned bulls out on cows for rebreeding. Livestock prices were holding in Shelby County and higher in Houston County. Spring cattle work was beginning in Smith County. Wild pigs were spotted in places for the first time and continued to be a problem in several counties. Upshur County had wild pig, coyote and gopher control underway.

SOUTH PLAINS: Higher temperatures and windy conditions continued to deplete soil moisture levels.  Temperatures were very warm, including a record high on March 19. Only a trace of rain was reported.  Wheat was in the jointing stage and progressing well but needed rainfall. Some brown wheat mite infestations were detected. Producers continued to prepare fields for spring planting. Preplant herbicide applications were being made.

PANHANDLE: Conditions were warm, dry and windy. Temperatures were above normal throughout most of the region. Soil moisture varied from very short to adequate with most counties reporting short. A good general rain was needed. Deaf Smith County producers were preparing for spring plantings that should be soon, considering the unseasonably warm temperatures and lack of moisture. The winter wheat condition continued to decline with the lack of any rainfall and above-normal temperatures. Producer planting intentions for this spring leaned toward a large increase in cotton acres and a reduction in grain sorghum acres. Dry conditions continued to assist with green up in pastures and growing days for wheat. Rain will be needed for continued progress. Wheat conditions were declining in some areas and irrigation of wheat started in other areas. Hansford County was very dry. Land preparation with dry fertilizer and strip tilling was ongoing and being watered in. Cattle on grass were doing well and being fed cake supplement. A livestock supply points were set up in Lipscomb, Hemphill and Gray counties with hay, range cubes, creep feed, mineral, salt and other supplies following a major wildfire. Stocker cattle were being moved off wheat and going to grain. Many producers were grazing out wheat due to low grain prices. Rangeland conditions were poor and some rangeland was still dormant. Cattle received supplemental feed.

NORTH: The topsoil and subsoil moisture levels ranged from mostly adequate to short. Temperature levels were seasonable, with a couple of nights dropping down into the low 30s. There was no significant rainfall. Wheat fields looked good, with a few fields showing signs of some rust problems. Most wheat farmers were adding nitrogen fertilizer to give the crop a boost. Winter pastures started to take off and grow. Corn planting started. Grain sorghum, soybeans and cotton were expected to be planted later. Cattle were starting to forage ryegrass and clover. Spring-born calves were looking good and growing. Feral hog activity died down. Flies were active on livestock and caused some discomfort.

FAR WEST: Temperature highs were in the 90s with lows in the 50s. Precipitation reported for the week averaged an inch. High winds continued. Wheat was beginning to head out. Preparations continued for cotton and sorghum. Many producers started to prewater fields due to lack of rainfall. Dry weather continued to degrade pasture and rangeland conditions.

WEST CENTRAL: Temperatures were very warm and above normal for the season. No rainfall was reported. All areas were beginning to dry out and could use some moisture. Field work continued to increase in preparation for spring planting. Farmers and ranchers plowed and prepared fields and were spraying for weeds. Wheat continued to look very good. Rangeland and pastures were doing very well. Cool-season forages were starting to mature. Abundant green forage was available for grazing, but there were also a lot of weeds in pastures. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. Small grains were being grazed. Supplemental feeding continued but decreased as grazing increased. Bud break began on pecan and other trees. Mesquite trees were also breaking out early.

SOUTHEAST: Fields were drying out, and tractors were rolling in. Livestock were in good condition. Row crop producers will plant corn and sorghum soon with cotton to follow. Forages were doing extremely well. Vegetable production of cool-season species continued with warm-season vegetable planting underway. Soil moisture was great. Pastures were responding to recent moisture. Flies were starting to become problematic. Warm and dry conditions were promoting the growth of winter annuals. Warm-season grasses were starting to show some elongation.

SOUTHWEST: Weather patterns remained steady with warm temperatures, windy conditions and light moisture. Although moisture conditions decreased in most areas, subsoil and topsoil conditions remained adequate. The warm temperatures improved forbs and increased spring grass growth. A few counties were still experiencing delays in corn planting and wheat fields suffered due to lack of moisture. Livestock, pasture and rangeland remained in good condition. Spring calving, lambing and kidding continued.

SOUTH: Temperatures were mild throughout the district, including one report in the mid-90s. Beneficial rainfall was received in some areas and improved forage growth on rangeland and pastures, but halted planting and harvesting field activities in some areas. The reporting period began with some scattered showers and mild temperatures. An additional 2 inches of rain fell across Kleberg and Kenedy counties later in the reporting period. Wheat and potato crop irrigation continued. Wheat fields headed out and potato fields were in the flowering stage. Corn planting continued and early planted corn was in the four-leaf stage. Summer perennial grasses continued to green up and were progressing in growth along with winter annual grasses. Rangeland conditions were good with good forage growth for wildlife. Body condition scores on cattle continued to improve. Soil moisture conditions were mostly adequate, but some counties reported short conditions. The live cattle market in Brooks County improved. Livestock producers were hoping that trend continued. Good field conditions provided producers an opportunity to plant corn, sorghum and some cotton. Onions made good progress. Cabbage harvest continued. Spinach production was nearing the end. Livestock producers reported no supplemental feeding activities, as there was plenty of good forage available. The planting of cotton continued in Cameron County. In Hidalgo County, the planting of row crops and harvesting of vegetables and sugarcane was interrupted by rain.

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