COLLEGE STATION — Much of Texas received rain in the last week. Most got only a trace, but from 2 to 4 inches or more fell in isolated areas, according to the National Weather Service.
Nearly all the state suffers an exceptional drought, with dryland crops failing in most areas, and in some areas, irrigated crops were at risk too as producers struggled to keep up with their crops’ moisture demands, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.
“We are adding a lot more water to our crops this year than we have ever in the past, since I’ve been here for 25 years,” said Al Nelson, Texas AgriLife Research farm services manager.
Nelson manages AgriLife Extension and AgriLife Research trials on a farm in the Brazos Valley, about 7 miles west of College Station. He also grows some production crops, mainly cotton and corn, to help defray some of the costs of running the farm. With the production crops, he’s fighting the same battle with drought as commercial farmers who must make a profit, he said.
“We are way behind in our annual rainfall. Basically, this started last September when the rain just quit,” Nelson said. “So we did not get the winter rain that we require in the Brazos River Valley to regenerate our subsoil moisture.”
In addition to increased production costs, another issue he’s facing is a drawing down of the aquifer because of the increased pumping demands, Nelson said. A drop in the aquifer means much lower water pressure and higher pumping costs.
“Normally it runs at about 30 psi (pounds per square inch), but I’m only able to generate about 11 psi now,” he said. “That makes us slow down our center pivot and use more electricity.”
The farm’s cotton will probably make a good crop though with a much narrower profit margin, Nelson said. But it’s the corn crop that has really suffered from the drought. As with cotton, the subsoil moisture needed to have carried the crop through to maturity wasn’t there, but corn’s water demands are higher than cotton’s.
“I have applied approximately 10 inches of equivalent rainfall on the corn, but it is still only about 80 to 85 percent of a normal irrigated year,” Nelson said.
Compared to some parts of Texas, Nelson’s corn and cotton are ahead of the game, according to AgriLife Extension county agent reports.
For example, in Lubbock County, some producers were considering abandoning portions of center pivots in order to concentrate available moisture.
“This may increase as we move closer to bloom,” said Mark Brown, AgriLife Extension agent for Lubbock County. “Currently, only a few fields are near bloom. Even the irrigated crop has a low height-to-node ratio.”
Steven Sparkman, AgriLife Extension agent for Hardeman County, northeast of Wichita Falls, reported that 99 percent of dryland cotton had been abandoned. And about 20 percent of irrigated cotton also was abandoned because of poor stand or loss of irrigation capacity.
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:
Coastal Bend: July began with another hot and mostly dry week. There were a few afternoon isolated storms, but no significant accumulations. Sorghum harvesters made good progress. As long as nitrate levels were low, producers were baling sorghum stubble for hay. Cotton growers began defoliation, and rice growers expected to begin harvesting soon. Soybeans were drying down. Livestock producers continued to supply supplemental protein and hay to cattle.
East: Some areas received scattered showers, but overall, the drought continued. Upshur County had from 2 to 4 inches of rain on its western side, while the east side of the county received no measurable rainfall. Stock-pond and creek levels further dropped. Forages showed no growth, and producers were forced to purchase hay out-of-county. Livestock were in fair to good condition with producers providing supplemental feed. Many livestock producers wondered what they will do for feed this winter or if even they can make hay supplies last through summer, and they continued to cull herds. Grasshoppers were reported.
Far West: Conditions were hot and dry with no precipitation. Rangeland and pastures were in poor condition. The danger of wildfire was very high, and burn bans were in effect. Fall-planted onions were harvested. Cotton was squaring for producers lucky to have any cotton. Pecan trees began developing nuts. Alfalfa was nearly ready for a third cutting. Very low insect pressure as well as presence of beneficial insects in all crops were reported. Any growth of crops and forages was due to irrigation.
North: After two weeks of hot, dry weather, soil-moisture levels were short to very short. Some areas received some spotty showers, but high winds and 100-plus degree temperatures dried out soils quickly. Yields for the first cutting of Bermuda grass and summer-annual hay were about average. However, without generous rains, it was thought there might not be additional cuttings. There were reports of 70 bushels per acre wheat yields, but the average was in the upper 50-bushel range. Corn began to mature but did not look very good. Some corn was harvested for silage. Most corn and soybeans were in poor to fair condition. Sorghum and cotton were in fair to good condition. Rice was in very poor condition. Sunflower plantings were completed. The harvesting of oats was completed. Livestock producers were culling herds due to poor pasture conditions. Grasshoppers were a major problem and seemed to be getting worse. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in very poor to fair condition.
Panhandle: A few areas reported some rain, but generally the weather continued to be hot, dry and windy. Irrigators were actively watering all crops but were looking at diverting irrigation to less acres because of the ongoing drought. Many producers were faced with hard decisions on what crops to keep and what to abandon. Rangeland and pasture conditions were mostly very poor, and livestock producers continued supplemental feeding. Hay supplies were dwindling fast.
Rolling Plains: As the drought continued, cotton producers gave up hope of having a crop, and ranchers were forced to sell off cattle on a weekly basis. With absolutely no moisture during the past several months and none in the forecast, cotton farmers planted in dry dirt and walked away from fields. Some producers were lucky enough to get enough rain that cotton emerged, but with the dry, hot winds, plants didn’t last long. Knox County received 0.2 to 0.6 inch of slow, steady rain. The rain helped some cotton stands, but it wasn’t enough to replenish stock tanks and rivers. Irrigated cotton was progressing, but producers were concerned pumping costs were dissolving their profit margins. In Hardeman County, Quanah and other cities that depend on Lake Greenbelt for water were asked to promote conservation because of historically low lake levels. There was little to no grazing left in most areas. Some ranchers have been supplying supplemental feed on a daily basis since last fall. Others had run out of hay and money to purchase feed and were forced to sell off cattle. Ranchers who still had cattle were looking at weaning calves within the next few weeks to relieve nutritional needs for cows in order to keep herd numbers up. If they do wean, this will be the earliest this has happened in the region. With the dry conditions, most counties remained under burn bans and many also banned the use, sale and possession of fireworks during the July 4 holiday. Grasshopper numbers increased, and alfalfa producers were battling blister beetles.
South: Recent rains slightly improved soil-moisture levels throughout the entire region. But soil moisture remained very short in most counties. Rangeland and pastures that got rain greened up, but overall remained in bad shape. Livestock remained in fair condition, but producers continued culling and liquidating herds. Stock tanks were either low or dried out. In the Atascosa and Frio counties, peanuts were doing very well, and cotton looked good under continued irrigation. In Jim Wells County, the grain harvest was ongoing. Some cotton fields began to mature but showed poor yield potential. Sorghum harvesting was almost complete and cotton bolls opened in the Kleberg/Kenedy County area. Corn harvesting began in Live Oak County. In Zavala County, the cantaloupe harvest was done, cotton was progressing well, and producers were preparing to harvest corn and some irrigated sorghum. Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr counties received 4 to 6 inches of rain, putting a halt on harvesting, corn and grain sorghum . In Willacy County, most sorghum had already been harvested, but 10 percent of the crop was in the field when the rains came. Also, most cotton was beginning to open bolls before the rain.
South Plains: The drought continued with high winds, temperatures in the triple digits and nothing but a trace of rain in most counties. The seven-month period of October through June was the driest on record. Dryland crops have failed, while producers on irrigated acres considered abandoning half of pivot circles to concentrate water on the remainder as crop water demands continued to exceed supplies. Corn in the northern part of the region began to decline last week due to heat and water stress. Some producers were abandoning corn in order to be able to irrigate cotton. Pastures and rangeland were in poor to fair condition with no grazing available in most areas. Hay supplies were dwindling and cattlemen were wondering just how many will have to be culled for available forage to sustain them.
Southeast: Light rains were received in many areas, but the heat depleted topsoil moisture. The grain sorghum harvest began in Brazoria County, with yield reports of only 3,000 pounds per acre and below, but quality was good. Water for irrigating rice was limited. Some rice farmers reported paying $300 per acre for water. Haying activity was active only on highly fertilized Bermuda and Bahia grass fields. Bluestem growth was slow. Cattle producers continued to manage their herds through the drought by weekly culling, rotating pastures, dry-lot feeding, haying and supplementing with protein. Pasture conditions continued to deteriorate. Hay supplies were extremely short. Pond levels continued to drop.
Southwest: Conditions improved because of 1 to 2 inches of rain two weeks ago, but the soil profile remained very dry. Most counties were still under wildfire alerts. While the rain partially recharged the Edwards Aquifer, the San Antonio area remained under Stage Two drought water-use restrictions. Irrigated corn, sorghum and sunflowers were being harvested. Peanuts, cotton, pecans, grapes and landscape nursery crops continued to make good progress under heavy irrigation. The peach harvest was complete. The cabbage, onion, potato, watermelon, cantaloupe, green bean and sweet corn harvests were ongoing. Pastures and rangeland greened up, but forage availability remained below average. Ranchers continued to provide supplemental feed to livestock.
West Central: Temperatures were 100 degrees and above every day. Drought took a toll on livestock, crops, hay production and pecan orchards. Cotton planting was completed in most areas, but growers were already seeing crop failures due to dry conditions. Only irrigated cotton emerged, but producers were having a hard time keeping up with water demands on their fields due to the extreme heat. Rangeland and pastures were in poor condition, providing almost no grazing for livestock. What little hay that will be produced this year was expected to be very expensive because of limited supplies. Stock-water tanks and lake levels continued to drop. Feeding and hauling water made livestock production very difficult. Producers continued to sell livestock due to lack of forage, hay and water. Pecans were in good condition in some areas and poor in others, with growers heavily irrigating orchards.