COLLEGE STATION – Rains continued to improve forages and the outlook for spring planting in many areas, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service reports.
Only about 14 percent of the state was listed as being under “exceptional” drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor of Feb. 21. However, though conditions have greatly improved in the last few months, nearly 70 percent of the state still suffered from “severe” drought conditions.
Exceptional drought is defined as when there are widespread crop and pasture losses reported, and reservoirs and streams are low enough to create water emergencies. Severe drought is defined as when crop or pasture losses are likely, water shortages are common and some water-use restrictions have to be imposed.
Still, the improvement was welcomed, with many areas seeing a flush of forage growth thanks to warmer temperatures accompanying the rains. The improved forage meant many livestock producers could graze wheat or small grains, and reduce their dependence on expensive hay, according to AgriLife Extension reports from throughout the state.
“Driving to and from Abilene yesterday, the wheat crop looks as good as I’ve ever seen it; lush, uniform, dark-green, no bugs and about 8 inches high,” said Steve Byrns, AgriLife Extension communications specialist, San Angelo.
“(We had) 3 to 5 inches of rain across the county,” said David Winkler AgriLife Extension agent for Bosque County, southwest of Fort Worth. “Livestock producers seem to be cutting back on the amount of supplemental feed supplied to livestock. I think this is a result of the early spring green-up. One local producer said he just couldn’t afford to feed much more because of the cost. If that is the case, then the spring green-up could not have come at a better time.”
“After another good rain event last Saturday, and this week of warmer than usual temps, small grains and winter pastures continue to do very well,” said Rick Maxwell, AgriLife Extension agent for Collin County, northeast of Dallas. “The mild winter thus far has helped with good winter pastures and less feeding of hay and supplements.”
Not all county agent reports were so rosy. In the Panhandle, farmers were not only having to contend with low soil-moisture levels, but high winds and uncertain weather.
“Deaf Smith County producers are preparing for spring and trying to fight the never-ending wind events,” said Rick Auckerman, AgriLife Extension agent for Deaf Smith County, west of Amarillo. “The wind speeds have been averaging 30 mph to upwards of 60 mph on a daily basis this week. Producers are trying to reduce the soil erosion in any way possible with tillage equipment. Different cropping scenarios are being discussed to try and outguess Mother Nature this spring: half corn, half cotton; all cotton; and half grain sorghum, half cotton.”
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 for Feb. 21-28:
The 12 Texas AgriLife Extension Districts
Central: Though days were warmer, soil temperatures remained cool. Small grains looked good. Livestock producers were cutting back on the amount of supplemental feed supplied to cattle, probably because of early spring green-up. Trees were blooming due to warmer temperatures. Wheat and oats were ahead of schedule as daytime highs neared 85 degrees. Corn farmers planned to start planting as soon as field conditions dry out.
Coastal Bend: The northeastern part of the district reported rain and slightly above-average temperatures. These conditions promoted the growth of cool-season grasses such as ryegrass and caused wheat and oats to tiller and put on new leaves. Ranchers were having problems with the abundance of clover. Stockmen were advised to keep hay on hand and make sure livestock do not graze on an empty stomach in order to avoid bloating. Moist conditions have put a damper on corn planting. Most fields were simply too wet to plant. With forecasts calling for warm sunny days, corn growers expected to begin planting soon. The western part of the district did not report any measurable rain, but fields remained too wet from last week’s rain to allow planting. Livestock were still being supplemented with hay and protein.
East: Warm temperatures continued. With the recent rains, most ponds, lakes and other bodies of water were back to normal levels. Winter forages made good growth. Planting of vegetable fields increased. Feral hog activity increased.
Far West: The weather was warm and windy. Daytime highs averaged in the 70s, with lows in the 30s. Due to high winds this week, there were wildfires along the Rio Grande. The high winds also dried out soil moisture that was received from previous snows and light rains. Overall, the region’s rain was above average for the year going into the spring of 2012. However, due to last year’s severe drought, many types of grasses didn’t survive through the winter. Cotton farmers who had irrigation capacity were preparing land for planting. In El Paso County, plans were uncertain as to how much the cotton acreage from last year will be reduced and set under the prevented planting provisions in crop insurance policies. In Reeves County, area producers planted alfalfa, and production seemed to be slightly increasing. Producers were finishing working calves and reported that cows remained in poor condition even though they are still being provided supplemental feed. The lambing and kidding season was in full swing.
North: Soil moisture was adequate to surplus due to the recent rains. Good rains and runoff nearly filled area ponds are close to being full . The week of warmer-than-usual temperatures meant small grains and winter pastures continued to do very well. Many small-grains farmers were taking advantage of the nice weather to apply fertilizer and weed controls. Corn farmers were ready to plant as soon as the fields were dry enough. Reports from the local feed stores indicated supplemental feeding of livestock was down. Cattle were in fair to good condition. Peach trees were starting to bloom. Feral hogs continued to be a problem.
Panhandle: The region had extremely high winds and no moisture. Soil-moisture levels were still rated mostly short to very short. There was an ongoing effort by producers to reduce the wind-blown soil erosion in any way possible. Wheat growers were actively irrigating. Some producers have started to plow up the worst of their wheat fields to prepare for spring planting. Winter wheat was mostly in fair to poor condition. Rangeland and pastures continue to be in fair to very poor condition, with most areas reporting poor to very poor. There were reports of cattle lice. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding as rangeland grasses remained sparse and wheat pasture was short.
Rolling Plains: Windy and dry conditions continued throughout the region. Recent rains and sunshine caused trees to bud. Rangeland and pastures were rated at 50 percent fair, but ratings were only that high because of cool-season annuals furnishing grazing. Otherwise pastures were still in generally poor condition because spring growth hadn’t started. Winter wheat was in fair condition, and producers continued to graze cattle on it, hoping the crop will hold out until more rain comes, and pastures and rangeland grasses grow again. Cattle were in fair to good condition as producers earlier cut herds to be able to sustain lower numbers through the spring and summer. Farmers were preparing land for spring planting by applying fertilizer and pre-emergent herbicides. In the eastern counties, spring-like conditions prevailed. However, weeds were coming on abundantly.
South: Most of the region received light scattered showers. Accompanied by a hint of warm temperatures, the showers improved range and pastures. Soil-moisture levels in the northern part of the region were from 50 to 100 percent adequate. In the eastern and western parts, it was 45 percent short to 100 percent adequate. In the southern part of the district, it was short to very short. Where there was rain, forage growth supplied grazing, allowing livestock producers to cut back on supplemental feeding. In Atascosa County, corn growers began planting. In Frio County, farmers continued to prepare equipment and fields for corn planting. In Jim Wells County, field activities also increased. In Zavala County, cabbage and onions progressed well, the harvesting of fresh and market spinach was active, and corn and sorghum planting preparations continued. In Hidalgo County, the harvesting of sugarcane, citrus, and vegetables, and row-crop planting came to a standstill due to frequent scattered showers. In Starr County, onions were progressing well. In Willacy County, light rain throughout the week held back sorghum planting.
Southeast: Cool-season annual grasses showed good growth. Some producers were considering replanting drought-damaged pastures as soil-moisture levels improved. Hay feeding significantly decreased. Soil temperatures warmed, but planting of corn and other crops was behind schedule because of wet field conditions. Rains in some areas helped fill farm ponds. The condition of livestock rose due to better pastures.
Southwest: Small grains continued to improve. Farmers began planting corn in some areas. Producers slowed supplemental feeding of livestock, and there were reports of bloat occurring on animals grazing native clover. Creeks were running, and pastures were greening up. The lambing and kidding season continued, and shearing started.
South Plains: The sky was brown on Feb. 20 as high winds created dust storms — a typical spring pattern for the region — warm days with high winds and blowing dust cycling with cold days. It is as if Mother Nature is trying to decide whether it’s winter or spring. Topsoils remained dry, and winter wheat needed moisture. Farmers were doing some field preparation for spring planting, as well as some tillage efforts to prevent topsoil from blowing. Rangeland and pastures needed moisture with cool-season grasses showing some growth from light rains. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding of cattle.
West Central: The region had warmer days with cool nights. Many areas received rain, raising soil-moisture levels, which will help spring planting. The warm weather and recent moisture also improved winter wheat. Cool-season grasses in rangeland and pastures continued to improve. Producers continued feeding livestock, but slowed due to improved grazing in rangeland. Weeds were becoming a problem this year, and cattle bloat due to over-consumption of clover was a great concern. Yearling cattle were doing very well on small grains, and cows were gaining body condition where winter grasses were available. Fruit trees were blooming. Fruit growers were pruning peach orchards.