Drought may mean more dryland cotton in Texas High Plains

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COLLEGE STATION – Ironically, fears of another drought may result in fewer irrigated and more dryland cotton acres in the Texas High Plains this year, said a Texas AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Typically, the Texas High Plains cotton acres will be nearly evenly split between dryland and irrigated, said Mark Kelley, AgriLife Extension cotton specialist, Lubbock. This adds up to about 2 million dryland cotton acres planted, with the same number of irrigated acres.

 “Last year, we had 4.6 million acres total, with about 55 percent being dryland,” Kelley said. “Usually our acreage would be split with about a 52/48 percent mix of dryland and irrigated. Looking ahead there’s a chance that we’ll see a little more dryland than irrigated this year.”

With the area remaining dry, fears of continued drought are the biggest issue facing producers and will be at the heart of any additional shifts in planting, he said.

“They will go ahead and plant, but if we don’t get some help from Mother Nature, a lot of the irrigated producers here have indicated they will just wait and see how things look before committing to an irrigated practice in 2012,” he said.

The “wait-and-see” game could play until July 15, which is the latest date producers can certify a crop as dryland for crop insurance purposes, he said.

The producers he has talked to have indicated they plan to plant for irrigation, which is about four plants per row foot on row spacings of 40 inches, which works out to about 52,000 plants per acre, Kelly said. “Typically, Texas High Plains cotton growers will ‘pinch back’ a little for dryland, and plant about three plants per row foot.”

Input costs are considerably higher on irrigated cotton due to pumping costs, but the potential profits are higher too, so most producers with irrigation will probably go ahead for an irrigated crop, he said.

“Then they (those planting for irrigation) will play the wait-and-see game, and as the situation develops, if there hasn’t been enough rain to fully augment their normal irrigation capacity, they will squeeze back on what they can manage with their irrigation,” Kelley said.

“I would highly recommend that they stay in conversation with their crop insurance agent, and make sure everything they’re doing is communicated, so that can be insured properly,” he added. “They need to stay in contact with their insurance agent throughout the process. We don’t want anyone getting to the point where their crop is uninsurable.”

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:The region received from 1.3 to 2.5 inches of rain. Runoff filled most stock tanks. Thanks to timely rains throughout January, small grains continued to do well. Winter wheat and winter grasses were also thriving and were being heavily grazed. Soil preparation and fertilizing for row crops was delayed because of wet conditions. Some wheat growers reported thinner stands, while other fields were in more advanced growth stages than normal.

Coastal Bend: The region had light rains, but they were not enough to raise soil-moisture levels for the upcoming crop season. Most farmers were waiting on heavier rains before fertilizing pastures. Producers continued supplemental feeding of livestock with hay and protein. The shortage of hay was a concern to many.

East: As much as 4 inches of rain fell in some parts of the region. Other areas received only scattered showers. Lake, pond and creek levels rose from runoff. Winter forages continued to improve. Producers were preparing fields for spring planting. Calving continued. Feral hog damage continued to be a major problem in many areas.

Far West: With a few exceptions, most counties received a trace to 0.6 inch of a slow rain. The exceptions were Glasscock County with 1 inch and Brewster County reporting as much as 2 inches. Temperatures were moderate, with lows from the 30s to 40s and highs between the upper 60s and lower 70s. Conditions were windy, which raised the danger of wildfire in some areas. Presidio County reported gusts up to 60 mph. The moisture helped green up some winter weeds. Unfortunately, a large portion were toxic varieties, bitterweed and locoweed. Livestock producers continued to feed their way through the winter, but hay was getting harder to find and very expensive when it could be found. Rangeland conditions remained poor. Areas that burned in the summer still showed charred ground with little to no regrowth. Cotton producers applied pre-emergent herbicides in preparation for the planting season. Fields were also being cultivated for chili pepper planting. Wheat looked fair.

North: The region had widespread, heavy rains, with most counties receiving 3 to 6 inches. Most ponds and small lakes were filled to normal levels. Soil-moisture levels were also replenished. The moisture benefited small grains, pastures and land planned for corn planting this spring. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Producers continued heavy supplemental feeding of livestock, with hay prices still very high. Feral hogs continue to be a problem.

Panhandle: The region was mostly dry and windy. Temperatures varied from seasonally normal to above normal. The high winds depleted what little moisture was received from rain and snow in previous weeks. Soil moisture was mostly very short to short. Winter wheat was in good to very poor condition, with most counties reporting poor to very poor. Farmers were preparing fields for planting. Rangeland and pastures continue to be in poor to very poor condition. Producers continued supplemental feeding of livestock.

Rolling Plains: The western part of the district received only light rain, while the eastern counties got from 1 inch to 5 inches. The rain benefited rangeland and pastures, and raised levels of stock-water tanks, filling up many to overflowing. Wheat benefited as well, and was in good shape, with growth taking off. Cattle were in good condition. In the western counties, farmers were preparing fields for spring cotton planting. Livestock producers in that area were still providing heavy supplemental feed to livestock on pastures. Hay was in short supply, and some producers were still shipping it in from out of state. Wheat producers in the western counties were holding off top-dressing and applying weed control until moisture conditions improved. Parker County reported growers were pruning peach trees.

South: Nights were cool and days mild throughout the region. A few counties received light rain. Atascosa County received the most, about 2 inches in areas west of Charlotte and the north part of the county. Rangeland and pastures remained mostly in poor condition. In McMullen County, livestock producers continued to feed prickly pear as hay was expensive and in short supply. Cattle body condition scores were poor to fair, with most herds in poor condition. With stock tanks still low or completely dry, and feed costs rising, ranchers were expecting to further cull herds. Frio County potato producers continued planting, hoping to wind down the first week of February. There was minimal field activity in Jim Wells County. In Zavala County, dryland oat and wheat producers welcomed scattered showers as their crops were in great need of moisture. Spinach and cabbage producers in that area resumed harvesting as soon as fields dried out. In Hidalgo County, farmers continued harvesting vegetables, citrus and sugarcane. The Texas Department of Agriculture set a 5-mile quarantine on the movement of citrus nursery stock in the Hidalgo County area due to citrus greening disease being confirmed there. Spring-planting preparations continued in the Starr County area.

South Plains: Temperatures were mild, but topsoil moisture continued to drop because of dry, windy weather. Pastures and rangeland needed moisture, and winter wheat was struggling. There were reports of flocks of geese damaging young wheat stands. Blowing sand was a problem for some wheat fields as well. Moisture was needed to hold the soil in place. Garza County received a trace of rain, about 0.3 inch. Scurry County received from 0.2 to 0.3 inch. Rangeland was in mostly poor to fair condition. Livestock were in mostly fair to good condition, with supplemental feeding continuing. Producers were preparing fields for spring planting.

Southeast: Many areas received rain, 2 to 4 inches in some cases, filling creeks, ponds and stock tanks. The rain promoted further winter-pasture growth. Producers continued supplemental feeding of livestock, and, along with slightly better pasture conditions, the condition of cattle improved. Farmers began preparation of cropland for spring plantings.

Southwest: Eastern counties received from 5 to 7 inches of rain, while the western part of the district reported 0.5 inch to 1.5 inches. Where the rains were heavy, soil-moisture levels were greatly increased and stock ponds were filled. Oats and winter weeds greened back up. Several varieties of trees broke buds.

West Central: The region had very mild temperatures and much needed rain in nearly all 16 counties. The slow, soaking rains boosted growth of cool-season grasses and forages. Wheat pastures continued to do very well and were providing grazing for livestock. The rains and warm weather also helped other small-grain crops. Farmers were preparing land for spring planting as weather permitted. Rangeland and pasture conditions were very good. Stock tanks were in good shape for this time of year. Producers continued supplemental feeding of livestock.


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