Texas warm-season grass pastures still drought damaged

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COLLEGE STATION – Much of the state’s warm-season grass pastures have yet to recover from damage suffered during the 2010 drought, said a Texas A&M Agricultural Extension Service forage expert.

The recovery delay is caused by several factors, said Dr. Larry Redmon, AgriLife Extension state forage specialist, College Station. Factors include the continuing drought, cooler-than-average weather, cutbacks on fertilizer applications and overstocking.

As of April 23, the U.S. Drought Monitor listed 92 percent of the state in one form of drought or another — moderate, severe, extreme or exceptional.

Producers can’t do anything about the drought, Redmon said. But if they can lower their stocking rates and improve soil fertility, they’ll improve the chances for warm-season grass recovery.

However, from his observations as he travels around the state, many producers have not done either.

 

“It’s spring, and it’s green out there,” he said. “But most of that green is not grass but weeds, and we have to be very careful with our stocking rates. Only a very few people are using the amount fertilizer they should be because prices are so high. Hybrid Bermuda grasses must be fertilized or they start to weaken and other species (forbs or weeds) start moving in to take their place.”

On a positive note, warm-season grasses were not damaged by the late freezes in March and April, he said. The lack of damage was because of delayed emergence from dormancy, which was a result of the cooler-than-normal weather interrupting a warming trend.

However, some areas are better off than others, which is allowing people to cut back or quit feeding hay entirely, Redmond said.

“If you look at a little bit of East Texas, it looks pretty good,” he said. “But when you get out of deep East Texas and into the post oak savannahs, the Blackland Prairies, South Texas, West Texas, North Texas – many of those areas are essentially unchanged from 2011.”

Even native grass pastures, which have good drought tolerance, were not spared in some areas, Redmon said.

“If you were in Central Texas, west and south, there were a lot of those forages that were destroyed, even with their great drought tolerance,” he said. “When we start killing redberry juniper out on the plateau, you know it’s dry.”

But there is native grass seed in the soil, and with some water and the correct stocking rate they will eventually recover, Redmon 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 for the week of April 22-29:

The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Districts

Central: Producers reported freeze damage to crops, particularly to the peach crop, which have largely been lost. Cotton planting continued, as well as general fieldwork and spraying for weeds. Growth of grain sorghum and corn slowed. Wheat and oats still looked good. Some producers were getting ready to harvest hay.

Coastal Bend: Most of the region received much-needed rain, though some counties were passed over and were still reported severe drought conditions. Several counties reported frost, but there was no significant damage to crops. Cooler-than-normal temperatures combined with drought slowed crop development.

East: Rain accompanied a cold front moving through the region. Unusually cooler nighttime temperatures slowed the growth of warm-season grasses. Many counties lost vegetables due to the freezes and frosts. Some producers were replanting tomatoes and other vegetables. The blueberry crop suffered loss of 60 percent of the crop in some areas, and the peach crop of 70 percent. Cattle were in good condition, and producers were working the new calf crop. Flies were a problem in some areas.

Far West: Temperatures ranged from well above normal to well below normal from day to day. There was a possibility of freeze damage to emerging crops and vegetation in some counties. Scattered showers in some counties brought accumulations from 0.25 to 0.7 inch, along with some reports of small hail. Windy weather and the continuing drought kept the wildfire danger high.

This coastal Bermuda grass hay meadow has been depleted from a combination of drought and weed pressure. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Dr. Vanessa Corriher-Olson)

North: Soil-moisture levels were adequate. Temperatures again dropped into the mid to upper 30s on April 23–24. Winter wheat not damaged by freezes was was in really good condition and mostly headed out. From 50 to 100 percent of sorghum was planted and in fair to good condition. Lots of small grains were being ensiled or baled. There was some freeze damage to grain sorghum and corn. Bermuda grass pastures and hay meadows were slow to come out of dormancy. However, winter pasture grasses were doing well, which allowed most cattle producers to reduced hay being feeding. Livestock across the counties were in good condition. Spring calves are looked good and were growing at a good rate. Grasshoppers were reported in a couple of locations. Feral hogs were active.

Panhandle: The region had more late-season freezes with high winds, further damaging wheat. Some producers were plowing up wheat fields. Others were killing weeds by spraying. Insect activity continued in the wheat even with the recent damage. With no moisture, soil-moisture levels continued to be mostly very short to short. Corn planting was under way is some areas. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in very poor to poor condition. In some counties, cow/calf producers who had held on through the drought were now liquidating herds.

Rolling Plains: The region received another late freeze that was expected to kill production by any fruit trees that had escaped earlier freezes. Even mesquite trees were damaged. Temperatures climbed into the 90s one day and were below freezing the next morning. What winter wheat was left also had additional freeze damage. Many producers say they always graze wheat and were less affected than those who raise the crop for grain. Others were saying they will wait until closer to harvest to determine damage and file insurance claims because the haying and grazing opportunities on failed wheat is not a good option. Another factor is that reduced livestock inventories meant there were fewer cattle to take advantage of wheat for grazing. Pecan growers were scouting for nut casebearers.

South: Some areas received rain; amounts varied from about 1 inch to as much as 4 inches. Though the rain improved soil-moisture levels, in most cases it was not enough to significantly improve rangeland and pastures. Rain was also forecast for the western part of the region, but it did not happen. With high hay costs and poor grazing, producers continued to reduce herds and purchase additional supplemental feed. Many livestock producers were trying to hold on to their best cattle and not to sell unless it is absolutely necessary. In Frio County, potatoes were in their final development stage and ready for harvesting. Also in that area, corn was beginning to make heads. There was some hay being cut, including oats that were damaged by hail weeks ago. In McMullen County, cattle body condition scores were fair to poor and continued to decline. In Jim Wells County, most row crops failed to establish a stand. Maverick County still had some winter oats, and producers were preparing fields for planting. Producers were expecting a good coastal Bermuda grass season on most irrigated fields. In Webb County, livestock producers who still have cattle are burning prickly pear for supplemental feed. In Zavala County, producers continued irrigating corn, onions, cabbage and sorghum. Watermelon growth slowed due to colder temperatures. In Cameron County, irrigation water was limited for crop producers. In Hidalgo County, the citrus and vegetable harvest was ongoing. Spring-planted dryland grain and cotton was devastated by the drought, but some of the irrigated crops looked good. Abnormally cold temperatures slowed plant growth in that area. In Starr County, the harvesting of onions and other irrigated vegetable crops such as sweet corn, tomato and zucchini continued. In Willacy County, a 2 to 3 inches of rain came too late for crops, but it did raise soil-moisture levels to 75 percent adequate.

South Plains: Fluctuating temperatures dominated the region, with highs in the 90s one day to lows in the mid-20s the next day. There was more freeze damage to wheat, and some producers began harvesting it for silage and hay. With no measurable precipitation, the outlook was grim for spring cotton planting. Many producers began pre-watering. Rangeland and pastures remained in fair condition. Livestock were mostly in fair condition with continued supplemental feeding.

Southeast: Brazos and other counties got rain of various amounts, and crops were in average condition. In Montgomery County, ryegrass was heading out but still green and growing. There was enough moisture for the annuals to respond to fertilizer and promote growth, but cold nights hampered Bermuda grass development. Walker County needed rain. In Burleson County, corn in low-lying areas suffered frost and freeze injury last April 27. In some cases, half the crop was blackened and laying down within 48 hours of the freeze. Lee County had some potential freeze damage to corn. Fort Orange County reported good rains and warm temperatures supported good forage growth.

Southwest: Dry conditions persisted. Corn and milo progressed under irrigation. Most cotton was in cotyledon stage (first embryonic leaves). Sunflowers were rapidly growing. Livestock producers were supplying supplemental feed and de-stocking as necessary. Rangelands will require more rain to make enough grass for the summer. Spring sheep shearing continued.

West Central: Extremely dry, windy conditions continued, further drying out the region. In some areas, a cold front passed through mid-week, bringing a light frost and further delaying spring green-up. Due to freeze damage, little wheat will be harvested for grain. Most will be grazed out or baled as hay. Corn was off to a fair start due to irrigation. Some producers were spraying weeds and plowing in preparation for cotton planting. Others were planting grain sorghum and sorghum Sudan grass for summer forage. Rangeland and pastures remained in very poor condition. Grass growth was slowed due to limited soil moisture and cool temperatures. Cool-season grasses and forbs that were currently being grazed will soon stop growth because of warmer days and lack of rain. Livestock remained in poor to fair condition. Producers who kept livestock from last year’s culling were further reducing numbers due to dry conditions.


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