COLLEGE STATION – The new year has found many Texas farmers and ranchers in West Texas and the Coastal Bend regions facing the same conditions they have experienced over the last three years: drought.
Without timely or above-average rainfall this spring and early summer, crop production in many parts of Texas is likely to be at best “marginal” in 2014, said Dr. Travis Miller, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomist and Texas A&M University soil and crop sciences associate department head, College Station.
“And long-range climatic forecasts find no clear pattern to suggest above or below normal precipitation, with the exception of Far West Texas, which shows a significant probability of below-normal precipitation over the next three months,” he said.
East Texas and the Blacklands region are in pretty good shape as far as soil moisture profiles are concerned, but the Rolling Plains, much of the Panhandle and Far West Texas, the South Plains, Coastal Bend, and South Texas remained far behind in rainfall, Miller said.
“The soils are dry from last year,” he said. “They never got enough rain to recharge soils, and the winter wheat crop and cool season forages are struggling right now. The irrigated wheat looks pretty good. But the dryland wheat has marginal stands and very poor growth.”
After years of short crop after short crop, producers and Miller’s AgriLife Extension colleagues are studying what could be done in the way of alternative cropping systems and crops.
“Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do without moisture, as far as agriculture is concerned,” Miller said. “The livestock producers aren’t doing much better than the crop producers. If you can’t grow grass, you can’t have very many cattle out there.”
Another problem that’s causing great concern for agriculture and urban water supplies is continued low reservoir levels.
“Many are not much more than mud puddles right now,” Miller 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: Temperatures ranged from the 20s to 84 degrees, with some areas receiving snow and ice. Crops were in good condition. Livestock producers continued feeding hay. More producers were taking soil samples to prepare for spring planting. Field conditions, though somewhat on the dry side, were favorable for tillage and fertilizer applications. Farmers were preparing equipment for corn planting, which was expected to start in about 2 1/2 weeks. Cattle remained in good condition.
Coastal Bend: Many counties reported very little moisture, but most of the district had two days of freezing temperatures. Cold weather prompted heavier feeding of cow/calf herds. Livestock producers continued to feed hay and protein supplements. Crop producers were hoping for rain to replenish subsoil and topsoil moisture. One county reported cranes were putting “grazing pressure” on emerged wheat, but the crop appeared to be doing well otherwise. Geese were a problem on ryegrass. Matagorda County reported some rain, which helped replenish topsoil moisture. Most row crop fields were ready to plant.
East: The southern part of the region reported ice and snow with accumulations of 2 to 4 inches. The northern part of the region only saw snow flurries, but the entire region had extremely cold temperatures. Ice damaged winter forages or slowed their growth. However, the melting of the ice and snow helped soil moisture in the southern counties. Soils in the northern counties were drying out. Field preparations for vegetable planting continued. Many producers had already planted potatoes, onions and winter vegetables. Livestock herds were in good condition and calving. Producers were feeding hay and supplements.
Far West: A cold front brought low temperatures into the teens and highs in the upper 30s to low 40s. The region remained dry with strong winds late in the week. The winds dried out what little topsoil moisture was left. The pecan harvest was nearly finished and growers were hedging orchards. Some pecan farmers were irrigating. Cattle conditions were stable as producers provided supplemental feed as well as large amounts of minerals.
North: After no rain for 10 days, the region was becoming a little dry. The weather was sporadic, with morning temperatures in the low 20s and 30s to daytime highs in the 60s and 70s. Windy weather associated with another arctic front further dried out soils. Most winter crops were in full production and decent looking. However, pastures and small grains could have used rain. Livestock were doing well for the most part across the region. Titus County reported livestock were stressed by lower-than-normal temperatures. Supplement feeding of livestock continued across the region. Camp County reported damage from feral hog activity.
Panhandle: Temperatures began cold and windy, then warmed to above average by the weekend. Northern counties in the district reported some precipitation, but soil moisture continued to be mostly very short to short. Farmers were actively irrigating on warm days. Irrigated wheat was mostly in fair to good condition. Winter wheat continued to struggle because of no moisture in much of the region; some producers were trying to irrigate wheat for pasture. Deaf Smith County producers were trying to decide what to do with the upcoming dry spring. They were talking of possibly planting more cotton and dryland grain sorghum. Rangeland and pastures were in very poor to poor condition with most counties reporting very poor. Dallam and Hartley counties reported ongoing problems with tumbleweeds. The tumbleweed problem was expected to last for some time. County road crews were staying busy keeping rural roads open so residents could get to their homes and care for livestock. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued.
Rolling Plains: High temperatures went from 10 degrees one day to 70 degrees the next. Conditions remained dry. Wheat producers continued to report emerging stands, but as soils dried out, hopes for filling in gaps in fields were diminishing. Cotton producers were wrapping up harvest. Some were very pleased with the overall performance of the crop. Pastures and rangeland were also hurt by the dry weather. Earlier moisture gave pastures a boost, but the growth spurt didn’t last long. Cold weather stressed livestock, and some producers responded by providing more supplemental feed. Others were selling calves in hopes of reducing grazing pressure on pastures. Without a good winter wheat crop, producers feared they would be feeding supplements continuously into the early summer. Lake levels continued to drop. Burn bans were in effect in several counties.
South: Cold weather continued throughout the region. In the northern part of the region, cold temperatures with freezing precipitation occurred throughout the week. Soil moisture was 60 to 100 percent short, and rangeland and pastures were in poor condition. Atascosa County livestock producers increased supplemental feeding as range and pastures were not in good condition for livestock grazing. McMullen County had a hard freeze, which heightened the risk of wildfires and increased the need for livestock supplemental feeding. Also in that area, cows were calving, and cattle were in fair to good condition. Despite cold weather, potato planting continued full swing in Frio County. In the eastern part of the region, cold to mild conditions persisted. The cold front brought only limited moisture. Additional moisture was still needed to get the planting season off to a good start. Rangeland and pastures were in fair condition, and soil moisture was 60 percent short. The western part of the district also had cold weather, with temperatures dropping to freezing or below in many counties and only traces of moisture. Despite the cold weather, Zavala County fresh market spinach was harvested. Also in Zavala County, livestock producers increased supplemental feeding of hay, cubes and protein supplements. In the southern part of the region, soil moisture was mostly 50 to 100 percent adequate. In Cameron County, land preparations for spring planting continued, vegetable crops were maturing, onions were progressing well and sugarcane was normal with a good supply of moisture in soil. In Hidalgo County, the harvesting of sugarcane, citrus and vegetables continued. Early corn crops were also being planted in that county. In Starr County, fall vegetable crops were progressing well.
South Plains: On Jan. 24, Lubbock County had a low of 9 degrees and a high of 53. Still no precipitation throughout the region, and dryland winter wheat was suffering. Pasture and rangeland was also in need of moisture as the drought continued to deplete the soil profile. Almost all counties reported the cotton harvest was completed, with the exception of Scurry County, where the harvest was just winding up. Producers were completing general fieldwork to prepare for the upcoming planting season.
Southeast: The entire region had freezing weather, often accompanied with sleet and freezing rain. The cold, windy and wet conditions were hard on crops and livestock. Soil moisture throughout the region varied widely, mostly in the adequate range, with some counties reporting from 40 percent short to as much as 100 percent surplus. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, from poor to excellent, with fair to good ratings being the most common.
Southwest: The region had temperatures dropping down into the 20s and 30s on Jan. 24. Accompanying windy conditions with ice accumulations led to hazardous driving conditions. Soil moisture continued to be low; even winter weeds weren’t growing. Producers were finishing up spring wheat plantings. Dryland wheat and oats were showing signs of stress. The unpredictable weather was hard on livestock, but generally cattle remained in fair condition with supplemental feeding.
West Central: Dry, windy, droughty conditions continued, and the wildfire risk was extremely high. Temperatures fluctuated from warm to extremely cold, with no precipitation reported. The up-and-down temperature swings were hard on livestock and crops. Some fieldwork was being done. Producers were cutting cotton stalks and plowing fields to prepare for spring planting. The cotton harvest was completed in most areas. Dryland cotton yields were fair and irrigated yields good. Winter wheat continued to struggle because of lack of moisture. Rangeland and pasture conditions further deteriorated. Livestock remained in fair condition with supplemental feeding. Because of poor grazing, additional protein and hay were a must for all livestock. All area stock water tank levels were low.