COLLEGE STATION – Driving through Central Texas recently, Travis Miller said he saw a lot of green that wasn’t there this time last year.
“There are certainly still some severely dry areas in the state,” said Miller, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agronomist and Texas A&M University soil and crop sciences associate department head, College Station. “But over the last month to 60 days, we’ve had significant rainfall in a lot of Texas, and it’s made a lot of difference.”
The rains have perked up winter pastures and given wheat and oat crops a boost across much of the state, he said. The raised soil-moisture reserves, though still low in some areas, are much improved, giving farmers optimism for next year’s plantings.
“The Rolling Plains and Northern Plains are still very dry, and conditions there aren’t real favorable,” Miller said. “We did see some pretty good snowfall in the South Plains last week, and it will certainly contribute to causing wheat stands to grow and survive longer. There was not a lot of deep moisture, but it certainly perked things up.”
Far West Texas also got some rains, which will make a difference. Also, the cold weather should reduce insect problems for next year, he said.
There was some conjecture that the early bout of extremely cold weather in parts of the state might signal this winter being colder than normal, but Miller said national forecasts are predicting the opposite.
The forecast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for December through January was for above normal temperatures for most of Texas, he 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: Most counties reported 75 to 100 percent adequate soil moisture. Overall, rangeland and pastures were rated mostly fair, and general crop conditions good. Livestock were mostly rated in good condition. Oats and winter wheat were growing rapidly. Clover and some annual grasses were providing some rare fall grazing. About 10 percent of cotton remained to be harvested in some areas. Recent rains filled stock tanks and streams but made ideal rooting conditions for feral hogs.
Coastal Bend: Wet conditions improved soil-moisture levels but hindered fieldwork. Field preparation for winter crops continued where soils were not saturated by last week’s rains. A few counties reported their first freeze of the year. Hay production looked better than it had for several years. Cattle were in good shape, and the livestock markets were strong.
East: A strong cold front pushed through the region bringing cold temperatures and rain. Conditions remained extremely wet. Ponds, lakes and streams were full. Highs were in the 30s, and lows in the 20s, with several days of heavy frost. Many counties reported standing water in pastures, a good indication soils were saturated. Cool-season forage growth jumped with the low temperatures, but producers were waiting for drier conditions before turning cattle onto pastures. The rain and cold prompted many producers to start feeding hay and supplements. Livestock were in good to excellent condition. Cotton was 95 percent harvested, but the wet conditions may have contributed to the loss of the remaining 5 percent. The pecan harvest was ongoing. Feral hog activity reports increased.
Far West: Earlier in the week weather was warm, with highs in the low 60s and lows in the mid 30s. Part of the region was without electricity for about three days because of an ice storm, which also caused most perennial grasses to go into dormancy. Approximately 90 percent of mesquite was completely defoliated or in some stage of defoliation. Cotton harvesting was nearly finished in most of the region. Sorghum took a bad hit from the freeze and ice storm, and there was little to no harvesting of the crop being done. Winter wheat benefited from early November rains and most fields were not affected by the freeze.
North: Soil-moisture levels across the region remained adequate. Temperature highs and lows were sporadic, going from freezing to back in the upper 60s and low 70s. Winter wheat was doing fairly well across the region, with 100 percent planted and about 50 percent emerged. The cotton harvest was finished, with Delta County reporting good yields. Winter pastures emerged and were benefiting from sunshine and warmer temperatures later in the week. Cattle were in good condition. Some livestock producers were feeding hay as winter pastures weren’t ready for grazing yet.
Panhandle: Temperatures were average for the week, and soil-moisture levels were mostly very short to short. The cotton harvest was delayed in other counties due to earlier snowfall. Already planted wheat was in very poor to good condition, with most counties reporting fair. Winter wheat under irrigation was ready for grazing by stocker cattle in some areas. Winter wheat planting was ongoing, with producers going back to plant in on harvested corn and grain sorghum fields. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in very poor to poor condition with few isolated areas reporting fair. With the cold weather, producers continued feeding hay and supplements to livestock. Deaf Smith county producers had finished the harvest of all corn and sunflowers, and were nearly finished with grain sorghum.
Rolling Plains: A winter storm brought cold and icy conditions but very little moisture. Cotton continued to be ginned. In some areas, cotton not yet harvested was opening, but some lint was loose in the boll. Abnormally dry conditions in parts of the region meant most wheat stands were either very thin or still not emerged. Rangeland and pastures, already in poor shape, went into dormancy after the recent freezes. However, many producers were still able to graze cattle on standing forage without feeding hay. Those who overgrazed were forced to feed hay. Most livestock producers were feeding protein supplements. Ice-breaking of livestock water sources was a common chore. Stock tanks still needed runoff water. The pecan crop was light but of good quality.
South: Soil-moisture levels were reported as short to adequate throughout the district. Soil-moisture levels in the eastern part of the district were short, with rainfall averaging 0.5 inch. Rangeland and pastures were mostly fair in the northern counties, fair to good in the western counties, and poor in the most-southern counties and in Kleberg and Kenedy counties. The peanut harvest in the northern counties was nearly complete. Winter pastures were doing well there, and strawberry growers were irrigating and fertilizing. Wheat and oats were 100 percent emerged and in good condition. Summer perennial grasses were going into dormancy. The western part of the district reports had some isolated showers. Stock-tank water levels were good. Zavala County harvesting of fresh market and processing spinach harvest was well underway. Cooler conditions early last week provided excellent growing conditions for spinach, as well as other cool-season crops such as cabbage and onions. Cotton ginning was nearly or completely finished. In the southern part of the region, harvesting of sugarcane, citrus and vegetables continued. Also, growers were planting vegetables as fields dried out. Irrigation supplies for the coming growing season remained very critically low.
South Plains: By mid-week, the region had recovered from the extreme arctic cold front that blew through the previous weekend. Heavy snow— 6 to 10 inches in Swisher County—and wet conditions kept a many producers out of the fields. Mild temperatures prevailed for the remainder of the week, and most producers were able to get back to harvesting cotton over the holiday weekend. Most of the northern counties were nearly finished harvesting all their crops; many have either started or have already finished planting winter wheat. Some newly emerged wheat was damaged by the subfreezing temperatures. Another extreme cold event was forecast this coming weekend, so producers were pushing to finish up planting. The more southern counties still have larger acreages left to harvest as they started later while waiting for a killing freeze. Yoakum County reported above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation with rangeland and pastures in poor condition. With the additional moisture, rangeland, pasture and topsoil moisture was improved, but a heavy rain or snow was still needed to offset drought losses. Livestock were mostly in fair to good condition with producers supplying supplemental feed during the cold, wet weather.
Southeast: Most counties reporting had rain and cooler weather, which slowed down warm-season forage growth. Rain amounts from the counties reporting ranged from 1 inch to 2 inches. Soil-moisture levels throughout the region varied widely, but were mostly adequate, with some counties reporting from 20 to as much as 70 percent surplus moisture. Rangeland and pasture conditions varied widely too—even within counties—from poor to excellent, with fair to good ratings being the most common. Brazoria County livestock were doing great. Orange County experienced a hard frost, which was followed by a warming trend.
Southwest: Recent rains improved rangeland, pastures and row crops. Some counties reported temperatures dropping into the 30s and 40s. The corn and cotton harvests were finished. Early plantings of wheat and oats for grazing were doing well. Pecan harvest reports were mixed, but most growers had a major drop in production to no production at all. Overall, livestock continued to remain in very good condition because of an abundance of available forage. The hunting season was going well with the deer rut winding down.
West Central: Late last week ended with icy, wet and cold weather, but this week had milder conditions. Soil-moisture levels remained adequate in most areas. Wheat benefited from the earlier moisture. The cotton harvest was on hold in many areas because of wet conditions, but yields of already harvested cotton varied from average to below average. Farmers were hoping to get back to stripping cotton and planting winter wheat as soon as the weather permitted. Small grains were doing well but growing slowly due to low temperatures. Some limited grazing of small grains started this week. Rangeland and pastures remained in fair to good condition due to winter weed and cool-season grass growth. Bermuda grass went dormant, putting an end to haying for the year. Livestock were in fair to good condition, with supplemental feeding increasing. Cattle prices were very high, which was good for those selling calves but bad for ranchers trying to restock. The pecan harvest was ongoing with light yields.