COLLEGE STATION – Livestock producers are certainly more optimistic this fall than last year, but generally they remain extremely cautious when it comes to rebuilding herds and holding onto forage stocks, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service beef expert.
“There is more optimism, but at the same time they’re very cautious right now because they’re still trying to allow pastures to recover and make sure they have some forage reserves for the next drought,” said Dr. Jason Cleere, AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist, College Station.
The 2012 drought was devastating for many of the state’s beef producers. Lack of grazing and depleted hay stocks forced them to cull or disperse herds altogether, Cleere said.
Nationwide, beef cattle inventories dropped 3 percent last year, he said. For those not familiar with the beef cattle business, 3 percent may not seem like much.
“But we’d already had a shrunken cowherd because of a number of years of drought and dispersals. As a result, we now have the smallest cowherd that the U.S. has had in the past 60 years,” he said.
We hear the 3 percent nationally, but here in Texas it was a whole lot worse,” he said. “In some of the counties, it was pretty devastating.”
The drought is far from over, but many areas have had considerable relief. According to the Oct. 9 U.S. Drought Monitor, only about 16 percent of the state was still suffering from extreme drought, compared to 97 percent a year ago.
As a result, hay supplies have been rebuilt and, though not fully recovered, many pastures and rangeland have improved considerably, Cleere said. Now, with the improved forage situation and high market prices because of decreased herd sizes, some livestock producers would like to utilize that improved grazing, and buy back some of the cattle that were sold north last year.
“Yesterday, I talked to a number of ranchers, and those ranchers are looking to buy some of those cattle and bring them back to Texas,” he said.
But replacement prices are high, and those same ranchers remain cautious, he said.
“They can’t afford to go through what they went through last year.”
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 Oct. 9-15:
Central: Parts of the region had light showers. Winter grasses, wheat, oats, ryegrass and clover emerged and were actively growing. Pecans made progress, and growers were expecting good yields. Producers took the final cutting of hay for the year. Temperatures dropped below 50 degrees. There were some reports of armyworms in wheat and oats, but none in warm-season grass.
Coastal Bend: The region had scattered showers and cooler temperatures early in the week, followed by above-average temperatures. Farmers continued to work fields, plowing under volunteer cotton or killing the seedlings with herbicides. They were also busy planting winter wheat, oats and other cool-season annuals. Some producers were taking the last hay cutting for the season. Cattle remained in good condition. The pecan nut load was very heavy and causing much limb breakage. Late-season rains promoted the development of pecan scab.
East: Rainfall amounts varied across the region with reports from zero to 0.5 inch. Most counties reported good soil moisture. The corn harvest was finished, with yields averaging about 105 bushels per acre. Dryland cotton yielded from 1.5 to 1.75 bales per acre, and irrigated cotton 2.25 to 2.5 bales per acre. Cool nights slowed forage growth. Farmers were taking their final hay cutting of the year, with quality reported as being from fair to good. Most producers made enough hay for the winter. Winter forages began to germinate and showed excellent early growth. Fall armyworm infestation was reported. Cattle were in good condition. An increase of horn flies on cattle was reported. The fall calving season began. Feral hog damage reports increased.
Far West: A cold front brought a trace of moisture to the area. Cool-season forbs were growing because of rains earlier in the month. The cotton harvest was nearly finished, and fall-planted onions emerged. Windy days were causing still-in-shuck pecans to drop early. Some pecan varieties were splitting and ripening while others remained green. Because rangeland and pastures remained in very poor condition, livestock producers had to continue to feed cattle. Winter wheat stands were poor.
North: Soil moisture was short to adequate after rains over the last two weeks. Cooler temperatures and cloudy weather slowed the evaporation rate. Producers continued planting winter pasture, harvesting hay, and planting wheat and oats. Cattle and livestock were in good condition. There was limited armyworm activity on wheat. Grasshopper pressure finally ceased, but feral hog reports were coming in regularly. Pond levels were low.
Panhandle: Temperatures remained near average as most of the region received from a trace to 2 inches of rain. However, soil moisture was still short throughout most of the area. The corn harvest continued. The cotton harvest was on hold as producers were using harvest aids to to speed up maturity and promote boll opening. Winter wheat continued to be planted, with many producers falling behind normal planting dates. Cattle were in fair to good condition. Most producers weaned calves early.
Rolling Plains: Some counties received their first frost, which damaged grasses and broadleaf plants. The cool, moist weather benefited winter wheat and pastures. The winter wheat was in excellent condition. Some producers hoped to put cattle on winter wheat within the next 30 days, weather permitting. Pastures were also in excellent condition as grasses continued to grow. Livestock were in good condition. Most producers were nearly able to stop providing supplemental feed. Hay stocks were replenished, and some producers had hay for sale for the first time in more than two years. Some producers were considering baling up more wheat just to be on the safe side in case the drought returns in 2013. Cotton was in very poor to excellent condition, and everywhere in between. Peanut producers were trying to finish harvest and reported average yields. Lake, pond and stock tank levels were still at critical levels.
South: In northern counties, soil moisture conditions were excellent, pastures greened up, there was some hay cutting and baling, the cotton harvest was finished, and peanut digging and harvesting began. Most cattle herds improved, with early weaning of calves helping forage conditions. In the eastern counties, pastures rebounded due to the recent rains. Producers in those counties removed cattle from pastures to allow for forage growth. Rains from two weeks ago promoted the growth of winter weeds and fall grasses. In the western counties, conditions improved with showers in some areas. Some stock tanks were filled with runoff rain from a couple of weeks ago, but most earthen stock tanks remained dry. Livestock producers got some relief from supplemental feeding of livestock thanks to recent rains and a rapid growth response from native rangeland and pasture grasses. However, forage growth slowed with cooler soil temperatures and lack of soil moisture. In the southern counties, the harvesting of early season citrus, including oranges, began. Sugarcane was also being harvested. Vegetable planting continued, and irrigation of fall corn, citrus and sugarcane remained active. There were spotty showers, but drought conditions still dominated the area. Ranchers continued to provide supplemental feed. Rangeland looked good where there were no cattle grazing, but grasslands with cattle grazing definitely needed more rain.
South Plains: Weather varied greatly, with the first freeze of the year at the beginning of the week, then temperatures climbed into the 90s for the rest of the reporting period. The freeze was significant in some counties, with others just having a light frost. Within a given county, damage varied greatly depending on altitude, growth stage of crops and location. The freeze and damp mornings somewhat slowed the cotton harvest. The sorghum, sunflower and peanut harvests were ongoing. Winter wheat looked good. Pastures and rangeland improved where there was substantial rain. Livestock were mostly in good condition and improving where rangeland was recovering.
Southeast: Grimes County received rain late in the week. Only minimal armyworm activity was reported. In Burleson County, the row-crop harvest was finished, with above-average yields reported. Farmers there were preparing fields for next year’s crop. Soil moisture was generally short in pastures. In Jefferson County, lows were in the 50s, and highs in the mid-80s. In Orange County, dry weather favored hay harvesting. Soil moisture was adequate for the slower grass growth associated with cooler temperatures.
Southwest: Some parts of the region got 0.25 inch to 2 inches of rain, greening up pastures and somewhat replenishing stock water tanks. All of the region had mild fall weather. Warm-season row crops were harvested, about half of the cotton modules had been moved from the fields to gins. Oats were up and looking good. Livestock were in good condition.
West Central: The region had warm days with much cooler nights. Soil-moisture levels remained very good. Producers increased field activity, plowing and planting winter crops. Winter-wheat planting was in full swing, and the cotton harvest was under way, with fair yields reported on irrigated fields. Dryland cotton was in very poor condition and being released to insurance companies. Early planted crops emerged, but producers had to spray for weeds in many cases. Producers were trying to put up as much hay as possible before the first frost and were cutting and baling Bermuda grass. Rangeland and pasture conditions continued to improve because of recent rains. The cooler nights slowed the growth of warm-season grasses and forbs. Livestock were in fair to good condition with continued supplemental feeding. Pecans were in good condition, and some early varieties were already harvested.