Rains come too late for rangeland, but a boon for pastures

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COLLEGE STATION – Large swathes of the state received rain, from slow drizzles to heavy downpours, but the moisture came too late this year for most rangeland, according to a Texas AgriLife Extension Service expert.

“The reason is that we have predominantly warm-season, rangeland-type grasses here in Texas,” said Dr. Charles Hart, AgriLife Extension range specialist and associate department head of the department of ecosystem science and management at Texas A&M University. “Most of the grasses are warm-season grasses and their growing season is during the hot months of the year.”

That’s not to say there wasn’t a benefit from the rains received, said Hart, who is based at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Stephenville.

“It’s probably going to help some of the trees we have that have been dropping their leaves,” he said. “It will perhaps even save them from dying, but we won’t know until this spring.”

It’s also good news for winter annual forbs and some of the cool-season grasses grown in Texas, such as Texas wintergrass, brome grass and ryegrass, Hart said. It was also a windfall for those producers who have planted or were planning to plant winter pastures.

“For the winter-wheat pastures and winter-rye pastures, the rain is going to help tremendously,” he said. “It’ll help a lot of people in terms of having some feed through the winter as opposed to having (to depend upon) 100 percent hay.”

Hart said that though all rangeland throughout the state was in poor shape going into the winter, it was probably the southern part of the state that fared worst.

He also noted more rain will be needed to build soil moisture reserves and give rangeland a chance to recover next spring.

“It’s not all bad; it will help, but in terms of general recovery overall of our rangelands, it really came too late to do us much good,” Hart 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: The soil moisture from the recent rains was mostly gone. Daytime highs neared 90 degrees, but the early morning temperatures have been in the 50s and 60s. The cooler mornings were accompanied by heavy dew and fog. Pastures greened up as many cool-season annuals emerged, primarily ryegrass and weeds. Livestock producers were happy about the recent rains and hoping for more as they continued to provide livestock with supplemental feed.

Coastal Bend: The drought continued, with near-normal daily temperatures and no significant rainfall. Some producers lightly tilled fields to remove weeds and grass that emerged following an October rain. Winter forages needed rain. Livestock producers were still supplementing cattle because hay was scarce and pastures in poor condition. Cattle herds were also still being reduced.

East: Cold fronts came through, bringing some rain, but in general, dry conditions continued. Nightly temperatures were in the mid 30s to 40s with daytime highs in the 60s and 70s. Producers were still purchasing hay from other areas as supplies remained critically short. Winter forages were emerging and showing growth due to recent rains in some counties. Other producers were hesitating on planting winter forages, waiting to see if more rain comes before investing in seed and other expenses. Stock water was becoming a big issue for producers in some areas as ponds were very low or dried up. Feral hogs were rooting up pastures in Shelby County.

Far West: There was no precipitation received, and a combination of high winds, low topsoil moisture and ground laid bare from drought and wildfires led to regular dust storms. Cotton harvesting was almost complete. Many counties had their first freeze. Livestock producers continued fall working of cattle, with most calves weaned, shipped or back-grounded. Producers were selling off many breeding-age cattle due to the drought and because pastures and rangeland were burned off by wildfires. Weaning weights and conception rates on calves and cows were much lower than normal, which was also attributed to the drought. Most fruit trees were going dormant. Pecans were still holding onto their leaves though there were few nuts left because drought stress caused early drops.

North: The region saw light, scattered showers, with some areas receiving as much as 0.5 inch. The rains greened up winter pastures and encouraged fall plantings. Wheat planting was in full swing, and farmers continued to try to finish planting small grains, oats and winter pastures. However, the area remained very short on moisture, particularly for runoff to refill stock ponds. Livestock producers continued searching for hay and supplemental feeds. They also continue culling herds. Feral hogs were a major problem in some areas.

Panhandle: The region was windy with near-average temperatures but no moisture. Soil-moisture levels were mostly short to very short. Corn harvesting was winding down. The cotton harvest was ongoing. Wheat planting continued. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in poor to very poor condition. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding. Many were still reducing herds or looking for alternative feeds or grazing.

Rolling Plains: The region had its first freeze of the season. Wheat planting came to a standstill because of lack of adequate soil moisture. Recent showers in some areas greened up grasses, giving livestock a nutritional boost going into winter. Livestock operators were providing heavy supplemental feed to remaining livestock. Some producers were still buying hay while reducing herds. Large ranches continued to ship cattle out of state as rangeland further worsened. The cotton harvest was ongoing, with yields mostly disappointing. Several cotton producers who did not make a crop opted to plant wheat while others were just letting the land lay fallow. Their only concern about letting land lay out is that with the recent winds, soils have been blowing nonstop and without a cover crop there’s not much they can do about it. Peanut producers were harvesting, and reported average to below-average yields.

South: A cold front moved into the region midweek, dropping temperatures into the upper 30s and lower 40s. However, the front did not bring rain. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to poor condition. Cooler temperatures and high winds stymied forage growth. Livestock producers increased supplemental feeding of cattle, and continued search for hay to buy. Most livestock producers reported the majority of their cattle body-condition scores as fair. In Frio County, peanut harvesting was in full swing, with a lot of peanut hay is being produced, but wheat and oat planting slowed due to lack of moisture. In Atascosa County, wheat and winter oats were not emerging due to the drought. In Jim Wells County, there was not much field activity except for the harvesting of fall watermelons. In Zavala County, spinach, cabbage and onions responded well to cooler temperatures and irrigation. The harvesting of baby-leaf spinach was expected to begin soon. In Cameron County, corn was progressing well, and irrigation of vegetable crops continued. In Hidalgo County, the harvesting of sugarcane and citrus, and the planting of onions continued. Starr County fall crops were progressing well.

South Plains: The cotton harvest continued, though some producers had already finished. Winter-wheat planting was also ongoing, with producers hoping for rain to get the crop up and growing. Some counties received rain, but all areas were still way below average for the year. Temperatures have dropped off considerably with several cold fronts rolling through the area. Several counties had the first freeze of the year. High winds negatively affected conditions. Pasture and rangeland forbs were struggling due to lack of moisture. Livestock producers were still providing supplemental feed to cattle on a regular basis.

Southeast: Producers were still shipping hay from out of region. There was some hay harvesting being done, but yields were light. Some areas saw their last rain more than a month ago on Oct. 8. Winter pastures planted prior to the rain on Oct. 8 were up. A lot of acreage was seeded after Oct. 8, but much of that had yet to germinate before the rains. In Burleson County, nearly all oats germinated but then died. In Montgomery County, a few landowners prepared to plant winter annuals in hopes of getting some moisture later. In Brazoria County, dry conditions continued, along with high winds.

Southwest: Dry conditions continued, with livestock still needing supplemental feeding. Winter-wheat plantings neared completion. Already planted winter wheat and forages needed rain.

West Central: The region had very pleasant days with much cooler nights. Some areas had the first freeze of the season. Field activity, including small-grain planting, continued. All small grains were planted to be used for grazing. Rangeland and pastures began to decline again. Warm-season grasses shut down due to cool temperatures. Winter annuals came up but had little growth, and ranchers had to continue feeding hay and supplemental protein. Sheep and goats were doing well on winter sprouts and cool-season grasses. Hay was in short supply and of poor quality. Selling of livestock slowed as most producers who still have cattle were trying to hold the remainder of their herd through winter. Fly populations increased but were expected to drop when colder weather arrives. The pecan harvest was under way.





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