COLLEGE STATION – Dry topsoil and low subsoil moisture, along with cooler than normal soil temperatures, are having a chilling effect on spring planting, said Dr. Travis Miller, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomist and Texas A&M University soil and crop sciences associate department head, College Station.
Most of Texas is going into the fourth year of drought, Miller noted.
Drought ratings edged slightly higher, with 58 percent of the state ranging from moderate to exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor and reports from AgriLife Extension personnel.
“At least in the fall, we had quite a bit of rain across the Blacklands, parts of the Gulf Coast and East Texas,” Miller said. “There’s deep soil moisture there, but in some places it’s getting a bit too dry on the surface for good planting conditions.
Only a few weeks ago in some areas, such as Southeast Texas, fields were too wet to get in to work. But after a couple of dry weeks, a dry or crusty soil surface can still make planting into moisture a challenge.
But for those areas with subsoil moisture, it’s the cooler than normal soil temperatures that pose some concern about late plantings, Miller said.
“Farmers are very hesitant to put very expensive seed in cold soils,” he said.
Though the crop prospects aren’t good at this time, there’s still time for many areas to catch up, Miller said. The corn-planting season began about Valentine’s Day for the Gulf Coast and can be as late as mid-June for the more northern areas of the state.
The Texas High Plains remain the worst hit, he said.
“There are pockets that have some moisture, but overall, the Panhandle, South Plains and Rolling Plains remain very dry,” Miller said.
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: Livestock were in good condition with continued supplemental feeding. If moderate temperatures continued, spring green-up was expected to begin soon. Crops were starting to suffer due to the lack of rain. Corn planting was underway. Some trees have begun to bud out with the warmer weather. High winds and little rain increased wildfire danger.
Coastal Bend: High temperatures and strong winds combined to dry out soils and blow plowed fields. Corn planting began in some areas. Wheat showed yellowing as a result of no rain. Because of the cooler weather forecast for this week, some producers have chosen not to start planting. Livestock producers were cutting back on feeding hay due to lack of availability.
East: The region had warmer temperatures, which promoted the growth of cool-season grasses. Hay consumption decreased. Many producers continued supplemental feeding while pastures greened up. Trinity County reported many producers were out of hay, and those who had been selling extra hay earlier were now sold out. Livestock were in good condition. Farmers were planting potatoes. Fruit growers were pruning and thinning trees preparing for spring. Field preparation was increasing for vegetable planting. Feral hogs were active.
Far West: The region was warm and dry. Some counties were considering burn bans due to the dry conditions. Val Verde County had a wildfire break out on Feb. 21 on the Moody Ranch along the Rio Grande River. Approximately 1,600 acres and one structure burned. Homes and farms along San Felipe creek were in jeopardy until the Texas A&M Forest Service and local emergency management teams worked through the night into Saturday to contain it. Preparations for spring planting proceeded. Fall-planted onions came out of dormancy and were at the four-leaf stage. Cotton land was being prepared, with pre-irrigation expected to start the first week of March. Alfalfa was also coming out of dormancy, and being irrigated with return flows. Pecan growers finished hedging and started clean up. Some pecan orchards were being irrigated with return flows from the city, while other farmers were using their own wells. Cows continued to calve, and livestock producers were putting out supplemental feed and molasses.
North: With little to no recent rain, topsoil moisture was short to very short across the region. Temperatures finally rose into the upper 60s and 70s. The warming trend, along with some light fertilization, made wheat fields really green up. However, more rain was needed to aid in growth. Winter pastures, including ryegrass, also continued to improve with the sunshine. Hunt County growers were beginning to topdress their wheat with nitrogen. Titus County reported that some fruit trees were trying to bloom. The warmer temperatures also relieved stress on livestock, but there was still quite a bit of supplemental feeding. Some Kaufman County producers turned their cattle in on winter pasture even though it was not yet growing well. High feral hog activity was reported in Camp and Kaufman Counties.
Panhandle: Early in the week, temperatures were well above average, setting a few record highs for the region, then dropping to near average. No moisture was received. Soil moisture continued to be rated mostly short to very short. Producers were busy applying fertilizer, compost and some pre-emerge herbicides. Center pivots were being started throughout the region to irrigate winter wheat. Deaf Smith county reported stocker cattle placements were few and far between because of lack of rain and poor performance of winter wheat planted for grazing. Ochiltree County reported that cattle on rangeland were being supplemented, and cattle on wheat pasture were performing well due to milder weather. Cattlemen were very concerned about native grass loss and the potential for blowing dust with windy weather this spring.
Rolling Plains: Daytime temperatures were in the 60s and 70s with plenty of sunshine. Farmers took advantage of the weather by preparing fields for the upcoming crop year. Those cultivating and listing fields noticed that subsoil moisture content was higher than expected thanks to the snow and rain during the winter months. However, soil moisture was extremely variable, with some no-till fields showing moisture to four feet deep, while pasture soils were only moist to about 6 inches deep. The rain and snow helped pastures and rangeland, but with dry and windy conditions, growth slowed. With minimal winter wheat, livestock producers were providing supplemental feed to cattle daily. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Some producers were shipping calves to take advantage of the high cattle prices as well as to relieve grazing pressure on pastures. Ponds and lakes still needed runoff.
South: Without rain soil moisture continued to decline. Winds further contributed to the drying of rangeland and pastures. In the northern parts of the region, soil moisture was short to very short. Some pastures greened up as soil temperatures rose but were held back from lack of moisture. In Frio County, potato planting was completed, early corn planting began, and irrigated wheat and oats continued to develop. In Live Oak County, oats and winter wheat were in good condition. In McMullen County, livestock producers were providing supplemental feed at a steady pace, and cattle body condition scores remained in fair condition. In the western part of the region, soil moisture continued to decline with not much spring greening of native rangeland and pastures. Oats in Maverick County were still green. In Zavala County, the cabbage and spinach harvests were ongoing, onions, oats and wheat responded well to irrigation, and late spinach planting was finished. In Webb County, ranchers were considering restocking cattle, but as the cost of replenishing herds remained high, they were waiting to see how the market will do in the next few months. Also in that county, stock-tank water levels — already lower than normal for this time of year — continued to decline. In Zapata County, dry pastures and brushy areas posed a fire hazard. A shortage of forage availability increased supplemental feeding of livestock in Zavala County. In Starr County, onions were progressing well, spring planting was underway and supplemental feeding continued. There was not much field activity reported in other counties in the southern part of the region.
South Plains: The region had warmer weather, but conditions remained dry to very dry. Producers continued preparing for spring planting. Winter wheat was in fair condition and in need of rain. Irrigated wheat was growing slowly. Pasture and rangeland were in poor condition and in need of rain. Supplemental feeding of cattle was ongoing.
Southeast: Soil moisture throughout the region varied widely, mostly in the adequate range, but with a few counties reporting from 30 percent very short to as much as 90 percent adequate. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, from very poor to excellent, with good to fair ratings being the most common. Brazoria County continued to be dry and windy. Livestock there were in fair to good condition with some ranchers still feeding hay. In Chambers County, it was dry enough for some to work ground. In Galveston County, there was a large emergence of cool spring broadleaf weeds. In Orange County, significant rain was received across the county. In Walker County, plum trees were blooming, and cool-season forages were looking good. Brazos County producers reported excellent field conditions and were slowly starting to plant corn.
Southwest: Dry conditions continued to reduce soil and subsoil moisture throughout the area. Winter wheat and oats remained in good condition. Spring plantings of corn and grain sorghum were expected to begin soon. Peach trees were blooming. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued.
West Central: Very warm, dry and windy conditions persisted throughout the week, drying out soils. Temperatures were unseasonably warm in most areas. Field activity was underway in preparation for spring planting. Some producers were spraying winter weeds. Crops were showing signs of stress due to lack of moisture. Wheat was beginning to break dormancy with the warmer days. Livestock remained in fair condition. Stock tank water levels continued to drop, and livestock water was in very short supply. Supplemental feeding continued to increase.