Rains help, but most of Texas still under drought

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COLLEGE STATION – Cold fronts brought rain, from a trace to 2 inches or more, to much of the state during the last week, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

As usual, when it comes to weather, there were winners and losers. East Texas, North Texas, Central Texas and the Rolling Plains were the main beneficiaries, with the Coastal Bend, South Texas and Far West Texas regions being largely passed over, while the Panhandle and South Plains regions fell in between these extremes, according to weekly reports by AgriLife Extension county agents.

Where rain fell, cool-season grasses and winter wheat benefited, though the consensus, even where 2 inches or more fell, was that much more rain was needed to keep winter forages going.

In the western part of the Panhandle, the situation was pretty much representative for the region, according to Rick Aukerman, AgriLife Extension agent for Deaf Smith County, west of Amarillo.

Deaf Smith got about a half inch of rain in many areas, with more rain and snow forecast for Dec. 1-2, but it’s a mixed blessing, Aukerman said.

“Typically, what’s been happening here lately is that we haven’t got very much moisture, and it just puts a halt to what’s left to harvest,” he said. “We still have a lot of people who are baling corn stalks and grain sorghum stalks, and anything else they can bale up for feed for the dairies and area feed yards, and they’re wanting to get it out of the way. The cotton — what’s left out there — they at least want to get it off the stalk and into the modules.”

Baled corn stalks were selling for $80 to $100 per ton in the field, according to Aukerman.

Aukerman said Deaf Smith producers are about 80 percent finished with the cotton harvest, and yields were down. The dryland cotton was non-existent, and most irrigated cotton yielded 650 to 750 pounds per acre, with isolated instances of 2.5 to three bales per acre where more water was available to pump.

The rain helped wheat in Deaf Smith County, as it did in many areas, he said. But the crop was still struggling as of Nov. 29, and some producers were running center-pivot irrigation early in hopes of producing forage for the stocker cattle.

Aukerman also noted that Deaf Smith County had only received 6.5 inches to date this year. The record for the least amount of rain for a year is 7.5 inches.

“At this rate, unfortunately, we will probably set a new record for the least amount of rain for the year,” he 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:

The 12 Texas AgriLife Extension Service Districts

Central: Rainfall totals across the area varied from 0.5 inch to 2 inches. Cool-season grasses responded well and were growing rapidly. The cotton harvest was in full swing, though the crop has been slow to mature. Wheat and oat fields looked very good, considering conditions. Livestock producers were still heavily supplementing cattle and looking for hay outside the state.

Coastal Bend: No rain, strong winds and low humidity continued to keep the area extremely dry. The exception was Matagorda County, which received more than 2 inches of rain. Overall, dry weather continued to diminish rangeland and pasture conditions. Some areas had their first freeze on Nov. 27, which was expected to send native pasture into dormancy. Winter crops had not received enough moisture and were in poor shape. Farmers finished most field preparations and were waiting for rain before planting.

East: Thanks to recent rains, burn bans in all counties were lifted. The rain helped winter forages and, in some areas, raised the levels of stock ponds and lakes. The drought continued but was not as severe. Producers continued to purchase hay from out of state. Temperatures dropped into the 30s and upper 20s, giving some areas their first frost. Feral hogs were active.

Far West: Foggy and misty weather came to the region late in the reporting period, carrying with it only a trace of rain. High winds quickly dissipated what little moisture was received. The region was still under extreme drought conditions, with large fuel loads for wildfire in most counties. Pastures, greasewood and some trees died due to the drought. Cedars on hillsides were also dying. Temperatures dropped below freezing several times and the effects were seen on forages. Pecans were being harvested with low yields reported. Winter wheat and oats under irrigation were off to a good start. Red chilis were harvested. Alfalfa was dormant. Ranchers were working fall-born calves. Cows and calves were in poor condition. Several producers reported losing cows to over-consumption of mesquite beans, which causes impaction of the intestines and shutting down of the rumen.

North: Recent rains helped, but soil-moisture levels remained very short to adequate. Most growers got all their intended wheat acres planted, and stands looked good. Late-planted small grains and winter annual pasture grasses emerged. Hay supplies continued to be short. Many livestock producers continued to search for enough hay to make it through the winter and spring. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Stock-pond levels were up somewhat because of heavy rains two weeks ago.

Panhandle: Rain fell over parts of the region, with accumulations ranging from a trace to as much as 1.5 inches in isolated areas. Temperatures were near normal most of the week, but by the end of the week, days were cold and very windy. Soil-moisture levels continued to be mostly very short. The cotton harvest was ongoing, and wheat growers continued planting. What winter wheat was already planted was struggling, and producers were irrigating in hopes of producing forage. Some irrigated wheat looked good. Rangeland and pastures were in very poor to fair condition, with most counties reporting very poor. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding of cattle.

Rolling Plains: Parts of the region received rain, from a trace to more than 2.5 inches, which helped winter wheat. However, the moisture was followed by high winds that blew some wheat fields out. Producers were debating whether to replant or leave partially blown-out fields as they were. With pastures and rangeland in poor condition, earlier-planted wheat was already being grazed. Livestock were in poor to fair condition, with producers providing supplemental feed daily. Winter pasture was trying to grow but generally needed more rain to do so. The cotton harvest was in full swing, but yields were poor. The non-irrigated pecan crop was poor in most orchards, fair where irrigated.

South: Most of the region remained dry as winter approached. Only Maverick County reported rain, about 1 inch, which improved soil-moisture levels a bit. Overall, rangeland and pasture remained in fair to very poor shape, and soil-moisture levels were short to very short throughout the region. Livestock producers were still dealing with no grazing and expensive hay and supplemental feeds. They continued to cull or liquidate herds. In Atascosa and Frio counties, the peanut harvest was nearly finished, and wheat and oat planting was completed, with most of the plantings emerged and doing well. In Maverick County, winter crops such as spinach and oats were on schedule, and farmers were preparing fields for the next crop. In Zavala County, the harvesting of cabbage and spinach was ongoing, onions were doing well, and cotton gins were still busy. In Cameron County, farmers were actively irrigating onions and other vegetables. In Hidalgo County, the harvesting of sugarcane, citrus and corn was ongoing.

South Plains: The region had widely scattered rains with the most significant accumulations in Floyd County, which reported from 0.8 inch to 1.5 inches Other counties did not fare as well with accumulations of about 0.5 inch. A cold front on the weekend of Nov. 26-27 brought gusty winds. The cotton harvest wound down, and most gins were predicted to be finished with this year’s crop by the first week of December. Yields were well below average, lower than expected. Winter wheat needed rain. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding of cattle. Rangeland greened up in low-lying areas where there was rain, but more moisture was needed.

Southeast: Rain fell across the region, with accumulations ranging from 0.3 inch to 2 inches. Temperatures were moderately warm. Some ryegrass was planted. Pastures were in poor shape, and livestock producers continued to destock. Baling of the ratoon rice-crop stubble was completed. Pond levels remained low.

Southwest: Precipitation over Thanksgiving ranged from 0.1 inch in the western part of the district to 1.25 inches in the central and eastern counties. Some landowners began planting oats for livestock grazing. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding of cattle, as well as culling and selling off herds due to the continued drought conditions and hay shortages. Pastures greened up with some winter forbes and grasses. Cooler weather slowed or stopped the growth of summer perennial grass.

West Central: Days were mild with cold nights. A few areas reported light showers, but most counties remained very dry. The cotton harvest neared completion; only irrigated fields were being harvested. Growers were almost finished planting small grains. Some earlier planted fields were up and being grazed. Winter wheat was in poor condition due to low soil moisture. Rangeland and pasture conditions continued to decline. Hay was in short supply, and no grazing was available in many areas. Livestock producers further increased supplemental feeding of cattle.

 


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