Texas crop, weather: Panhandle planning for ongoing drought

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All parts of the Texas received rain Sept. 11-18, with many areas getting 2 to 3 inches, and isolated areas getting more than 5 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Large parts of the Panhandle and the Rolling Plains areas received 1 inch to 1.5 inches. Even the Far West received rain, with large pockets getting 1 inch to 1.5 inches or more, but most areas getting a trace to 0.5 inch, according to the weather service.

Though the rains were welcome and helped crops, soil-moisture levels in many western parts of the state remained short or very short, according to this week’s reports by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county agents. And some areas still remained far behind in rainfall for the year.

In the Panhandle, the drought is causing big changes in the way farmers — especially those who irrigate — manage water and cropping rotations, said Nich Kenny, AgriLife Extension irrigation specialist, Amarillo.

Despite the recent rains, the Panhandle remains about 7 inches behind for the year, he said.

“Irrigation needs in the Texas High Plains have opened some farmers’ eyes in the last couple years,” Kenny said. “After two years of severe drought, they’ve come to admit the drought is likely here to stay and that cropping patterns are going to have to be adapted accordingly.”

Kenny said that during the last two years, irrigators have pumped as much water as they typically pump in three growing seasons, which has caused Ogallala Aquifer levels to further declines.

The Ogallala Aquifer stretches across eight states, from Texas through Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming, Kenny said. It supplies about 30 percent of the nation’s groundwater for irrigation, and drinking water for many communities, and its decline is dictating big changes for irrigated agriculture.

“To maintain the sustainability of agriculture in the region – especially irrigated agriculture – they know they’re going to have to look at different crop rotations, look at splitting fields, incorporating more cotton, more sorghum, more winter wheat, into typical corn-cropping patterns,” he said.

“The idea that they can rely on so much rainfall, and always bank on it, has become a bit of a fallacy. They’ve had enough crop damage and real risk from drought that they’re just managing differently.”

Kenny also noted that modern center pivot and drip irrigation systems are approaching 100 percent efficiency, which means sustainability is going to have to come from different water and crop management systems.

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 Sept. 10-17:

The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Districts

Central: Producers were expecting rain and planting small grains. Pecans made good progress with most trees having heavy nut loads. The cotton harvest was ongoing, with some producers nearly finished. Pastures were beginning to show severe moisture stress. Some producers were preparing fields for the winter wheat crop, with planting to begin early October. Over-seeding of Bermuda grass pastures with small grains and ryegrass was expected to begin late September. The pecan harvest was predicted to start soon, with good yields expected.

Coastal Bend: The region received much-needed rain, which halted fieldwork, including cotton-stalk destruction. Producers completely finished harvesting grain sorghum. Producers were also preparing fields for the next growing season. About 5 percent of the first rice crop was yet to be harvested. Those with earlier-planted rice expected to get a ratoon crop. Rangeland and pastures were improved by recent rains. However, more rain was needed.

East: The region had spotty showers and cooler temperatures. Most counties received from 1 inch to 5 inches of rain, with only a few counties getting no measurable amount. Soil-moisture levels improved in most counties, and many producers were taking another hay cutting. Farmers were planning winter forages. Some earlier plantings were already emerging. Armyworms were damaging pastures and hayfields. Cattle remained in good condition. Livestock producers continued weaning and back-grounding calves. Hunters were planting food plots for white-tailed deer. Pecan growers reported heavy nut loads.

Far West: Highs were in the upper 90s, and lows were in the mid- to upper 60s. Some counties received scattered showers. Presidio County reported 0.5 inch to 2 inches of rain; Val Verde County had 1.2 to 3.2 inches. Ward County reported that rangeland and pastures improved slightly due to the recent rains, but the rain came too late to expect much grass growth. Cotton in that county looked fairly good and was just beginning to open bolls. Showers in Pecos County allowed farmers to shut off irrigation. Brewster County reported cattle were in fair condition, with stockers gaining weight. Farmers continued to supplement livestock.

North: Soil moisture was short to adequate in most counties, making good conditions for plowing. The weather cooled, but there was no rain was received, and stock ponds were getting low. Most producers who plan to grow winter pastures were getting ready to plant or had already started. Hay producers were preparing to take a last hay cutting. No armyworms or insect problems were reported, but feral hogs issues continued. Livestock were in good condition.

Panhandle: Temperatures were slightly above average until midweek when a cold front brought rain and cooler weather. Accumulations ranged from a trace to 2.5 inches. Soil-moisture levels continued to be mostly very short to short. The corn and sorghum harvests were ongoing. Cotton was in very poor to good condition, with most counties reporting fair. Wheat planting resumed after the rains. Rangeland and pasture conditions were mostly in very poor to poor condition.

Rolling Plains: Cool, wet weather prevailed in most of the region. Some areas received as much as 4 inches while others remained dry. In some areas, the rain greened up pastures overnight and grass quickly grew a couple of inches. The wet weather also helped cotton, but for some it was too little, too late. Late-planted cotton needed more warm weather. Other cotton growers expected to be contacting crop insurance companies to determine if some fields were worth harvesting. Early planted cotton seemed to have been overly stressed during the summer and played out. After the rain, some ranchers were planting wheat, hoping to get the crop up and growing quickly so it could be grazed. For many, getting wheat up soon will be the only way they can hold cattle through the winter, as hay supplies are mostly gone.

South: Some parts of the region received rain, somewhat improving rangeland and pastures. But there was not enough rain to significantly improve soil-moisture levels, which remained short to very short throughout most of the region. Where rain fell, accumulations varied from 0.4 inch to 4.4 inches. Livestock producers continued to sell off remaining cattle a few at a time. Only the bigger ranches still had large herds after culling. Supplemental feed prices remained high, and supplying water for cattle remained a challenge for many livestock producers. However, cattle body-condition scores remained good to fair. Peanuts continued to develop in the Atascosa and Frio counties. Row crops in the Jim Wells County area were all harvested, and fields in that area of the region were being plowed for the next crop season. In Zavala County, cotton ginning was ongoing, producers were planting cotton and preparing seedbeds for planting spinach, broccoli and onions. In Hidalgo County, harvesting of summer row crops was finished, preparations for harvesting early oranges were under way and fall vegetable planting continued. In Starr County, growers were planting fall onions.

South Plains: Thanks to a cold front that came through Sept. 12, most counties got 0.5 inch to 2 inches of rain. Temperatures dropped about 15 degrees as the front passed, with northerly winds and blowing dust. Highs were only in the 60s on Sept. 13, and in the 70s through the weekend. Most cotton producers stopped irrigating, but were still monitoring for weeds and insect pests. Bolls were opening in most fields. Some producers had applied harvest aids. Crosby County reported some cotton was already harvested. The harvesting of sunflowers and grain sorghum began. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in fair to good condition, depending upon how much rain was received. Cattle were in mostly good condition.

Southeast: Burleson County had scattered showers, with some areas getting 2.5 inches. However, most of the county remained very dry. Brazoria County also reported scattered showers. Orange County weather allowed producers to harvest hay. The cotton harvest was ongoing. The first reports of fall armyworm activity on Bermuda grass in the hay fields came in from the Damon area, south of Houston.

Southwest: The region received widespread, much-needed rain, with accumulations from 0.25 inch to 5 inches. Cooler temperatures accompanied the rain. Winter perennials were expected to improve because of the rain. However, surface water remained very low. Medina Lake, a major source of irrigation, was at 13 percent capacity. The cotton harvest was nearly complete, and some wheat and oats were being planted. Fall corn made good progress.

West Central: Days were warm with much cooler nights. Most areas reported rain, which was expected to raise soil-moisture levels. Wheat and oat planting was in full swing as fields dried out. Most irrigated cotton was in good to very good condition. The rain was expected to improve pasture and rangeland conditions. Livestock remained in good condition, with supplemental feeding increasing. Stock-tank levels continued to be a concern for producers, though there was some replenishment from the recent rains.


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