COLLEGE STATION – “Don’t chase the moisture.”
That’s the advice of a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert to livestock producers who are considering planting winter forages or rebuilding herds at this time in hopes it may rain.
With 85 percent of the state still under drought conditions, and climatologists predicting the drought may continue or worsen in the coming months, it’s wishful thinking that there may be enough rain for winter forages to emerge, much less maintain growth, said Dr. Larry Redmon, AgriLife Extension state forage specialist, College Station.
“I would certainly give heed to these drought monitors and forecasts, and would ask producers that wherever they are with their stocking rates right now to keep them or even consider further culling,” Redmon said.
Not only do climatologist predict a droughty fall for much of the state, but the long-range forecasts are for five or more years of continued drought, he said.
“If that’s the case, we don’t need to be chasing the moisture with our cow stocking rates,” Redmon said. “That’s always a loser for you, because you’re buying when the cows are high and selling when cows are cheap.”
Instead, he recommended a watchful-waiting strategy. If there are substantial good rains next spring or summer, and producers need to use up the resultant flush of grass, they can always get some calves or lease out the grazing, he said.
Though hay supplies are certainly better than they have been in the last couple of years, stocks remain low, according to Redmon.
Of course, many winter wheat producers will probably go ahead and plant, rain or not, he said.
“When you’re in that business—and there are not any hobby wheat farmers—when that’s your primary source of income, they’re probably going to plant into a dry seedbed and hope they get enough moisture to get that crop up,” Redmon said.
But as for livestock producers for whom wheat is not their primary source of income, the better strategy will probably be to use stored hay for winter feeding, though it’s a more expensive option than if they have winter grazing, he said.
In Texas, winter wheat and most cool-season forages are planted six to eight weeks prior to the first historical frost date, he said.
“Just a little bit of moisture is not going to get them by,” Redmon said. “What they need is not only enough moisture to germinate the seed, but adequate moisture in the profile so those roots can grow into a moist soil.”
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: There were isolated showers, but generally, dry conditions began to set in again. Pastures were showing signs of stress from the lack of rain. The corn and sorghum harvests were complete. Cotton was looking good. Grain sorghum and sunflower yields were categorized as “good” but not “excellent.” Producers were preparing to plant wheat and oats for grazing. Small-grain producers were preparing land for fall planting of wheat and oats. Some weevils were found in pecans. Pecan trees were shedding fruit. Stock-water tanks and ponds needed rain.
Coastal Bend: Soil-moisture levels continued to drop as daytime temperatures remained in the high 90s and 100s with little to no substantial rain for weeks. Cotton producers were applying defoliants or harvesting, though spotty showers interrupted harvesting in some areas. Some cotton producers were reporting surprisingly fair yields. The corn harvest was completed and the rice harvest continued, with fair yields and quality reported. The potential for a ratoon crop—regrowth rice—were slim with the ongoing surface-water shortages. Rice farmers planning a ratoon crop will likely have to rely on water from irrigation wells. Producers were beginning to think about planting wheat, oats and ryegrass as supplemental grazing for cattle. Rainfall will be the primary limiting factor as seedbeds were currently far too dry to support planting. Pastures continued to decline, and livestock producers were evaluating culling strategies. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued in many areas. Hay was being harvested, but yields were poor. There were reports of armyworms in pastures and hay meadows. Large numbers of grasshoppers continued to infest pastures in some areas. Ponds remained low or dry in most of the region.
East: Conditions remained extremely dry. Many counties were under burn bans. Hay fields were getting drier by the day. Some had already turned brown. Pond and creek water levels were quickly dropping. Soil-moisture levels were very low. Cattle remained in good condition. Producers were selling calves. Horn fly counts skyrocketed. Grasshoppers remained a problem. Feral hogs were active.
Far West: Scattered showers brought from a trace to 1 inch of rain. Days were hot and muggy. Pastures greened up from previous rains in some areas, but were declining where it remained dry. Most sorghum had matured and some was harvested. Cotton was opening bolls in a few areas. Alfalfa producers were taking a fifth cutting.
North: No rain was reported, and soil-moisture levels decreased to mostly very short. Pastures were drying out very fast. Stock-water tank and pond levels were dropping quickly. The corn and grain sorghum harvests were in full swing, with continued reports of above-average yields for both crops. Except for late-planted fields, the sunflower harvest was finished. Most cotton looked good. Livestock remained in good shape. Producers began to prepare for winter feeding of cattle. Grasshoppers were an unrelenting problem. Insect pressure rose. Warm-season grasses were declining, and hay producers were trying to take another cutting.
Panhandle: The weather turned hot and dry again. However, earlier rains helped dryland crops, mainly sorghum, but also rangeland and pastureland. More rain was needed. Corn silage was being cut, and cotton responded well to the warmer temperatures. Sorghum looked good and was completing grain fil. Weeds were a problem in both rangeland and crops. Wheat growers were preparing fields for planting. Some wheat was already planted, mainly for winter grazing. Corn for grain neared maturity, and many producers were about to turn off irrigation pumps. Irrigators had also about finished watering grain sorghum, soybeans and cotton. Insect issues declined in corn, while they increased in cotton.
Rolling Plains: Hot, dry and windy weather returned, taking a toll on soil-moisture levels and crops. Some fields still looked pretty good, but many were drying out very quickly. Cotton was progressing well as earlier rains helped the crop to fruit up and to hold onto that fruit. Producers with irrigated cotton were finishing up watering for the season. Most flood irrigators will soon turn off wells, but those with pivot systems will likely keep pumping until the first week of September. Pastures in some areas were green, which meant cattle were fat. Hay supplies were in decent shape. Wheat producers were preparing fields for fall planting by spraying herbicides and plowing. Some wheat for grazing will be planted in early September. Grasshopper pressure lightened up, but the pests were still feeding in some areas.
South: With continuing high temperatures and no rain, soil-moisture conditions were short to very short in the northern, western and southern parts of the region, and short in the eastern parts of the region. Some areas received light showers, including parts of La Salle, McMullen and a few southern counties. Willacy County received the most rain, from 2 to 5 inches. Overall, however, there was not enough rain in the region to either significantly improve soil-moisture levels or aid rangeland and pasture growth. In Atascosa County, cotton producers started defoliating, and peanut producers were busily irrigating. In Frio County, cotton was opening bolls, and peanuts were setting pods. In Maverick County, farmers were planting fall crops. In Zavala County, corn and sorghum growers were harvesting. Irrigated cotton was doing well in that county due to the hot, dry weather. In Cameron and Hidalgo counties, showers halted cotton harvesting. In McMullen County, some producers were weaning calves early. In Webb County, livestock producers were lightly culling herds, though maintaining livestock numbers on native rangeland and pastures continued to be a struggle with stock-water tank levels dropping.
South Plains: There was no rain throughout the region, and temperatures returned to the 90s. The heat was good for cotton maturation. There was only light insect pressure in cotton, but there was increased need for weed control due to previous rains. Some crops were drying out again and showing signs of moisture stress. Most cotton was in the cutout or boll-fill stage. Crosby County reported some boils were already cracked and expected to see full boll opening very soon. Some late-planted cotton had just reached early bloom. Early planted sorghum was coloring, but most of the sorghum replanted after lost cotton was in the boot stage or heading. Wheat growers were plowing fields in preparation for September planting. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in good condition, but additional growth will require more rain. Some rangeland was recovering but still had limited grazing capacity. Livestock were mostly in good to excellent condition.
Southeast: Many parts of the region remained dry, though some areas received light showers that kept grass green and growing for a while. Lee County reported very bad range conditions due to the lack of rain. Most of Brazoria County received 1 inch to 3 inches of rain during a two-day period. Galveston County received heavy rains throughout the area. Adequate soil moisture along with moderate temperatures in Orange County improved forage growth. Hay production was aided by drier conditions. In many areas, cool-season pasture establishment may be late this year if more rain isn’t received. In Burleson County, the corn and sorghum harvests were complete. Some cotton fields were sprayed to initiate defoliation. Rice harvest was in full swing in Chambers County. Scattered showers delayed some rice producers and made for long lines at the driers. Each year, more and more rice acres become ready to harvest simultaneously and hybrid varieties yield more. As the infrastructure has not had significant updates for a long time, delays at driers are likely to continue.
Southwest: Extremely dry conditions continued in most of the region, though a few isolated areas received heavy rain. Harvesting of cotton, sorghum and corn began. Sesame was in full bloom. For the last couple of weeks, armyworms were a problem in some hay fields due to cooler nighttime temperatures. Rangeland and pasture conditions remained in poor condition. Livestock were in good condition.
West Central: The region had hot days with cool nights, with temperatures in the mid to upper 90s. Scattered showers in some areas continued to improve rangeland and raise soil-moisture levels. Cotton was improving and continued to mature rapidly, but it was still too early to predict yields. Corn was being harvested with reports of fair yields. The grain sorghum harvest was well underway. Forage sorghum and hay crops were doing very well. Producers were getting ready to plant wheat. Grasshoppers were becoming an issue in all areas. Rangeland and pastures improved due to recent rains, though some grasses still showed signs of heat stress. Livestock remained in fair to good condition, but herd numbers remained low. Trees continued to suffer from the effects of long-term drought.