COLLEGE STATION – Recent rains greatly improved soil-moisture levels in many parts of the state, according to reports from Texas AgriLife Extension Service county agents.
However, many parts of the state remained critically dry, including the Panhandle, South Plains, Far West Texas and parts of the Rolling Plains and Coastal Bend areas, according to the reports.
The more fortunate areas experienced mild weather and timely rains – as much as 6 inches in some areas, with 1 inch to 2 inches more common. The warm weather spurred the growth of winter wheat and winter pastures. It also raised farmers’ optimism in those areas for summer grazing and the planting of spring row crops.
For fruit growers, the mild winter may not be a great blessing due to lack of chilling hours, though that remains to be seen, according to AgriLife Extension horticulturists.
Chilling hours refers to the minimum amount of cold weather that fruit trees such as peaches need before they will blossom in the spring and produce a crop, said Keith Hansen, AgriLife Extension horticulture agent for Smith County, Tyler. The amount of chilling hours needed depends upon the variety. There are low-chilling, moderate-chilling and high-chilling varieties.
There are also different ways of calculating chilling hours, and some controversy as to which is the more reliable indicator, Hansen said.
One method involves counting the hours between 32 and 45 degrees, Hansen said. By this method, according to weather data collected at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton, the region has had 687 chilling hours.
“We’ve got a couple of weeks before bud break, but we’re in the ballpark (by that method),” he said. “It may be a little low for some of the higher-chill varieties we have.”
Another method is simpler to calculate, only taking the number of hours below 45 degrees into account, including temperatures below 32, Hansen said. By this method, the East Texas region has received 746 chilling hours.
By either method, many of the varieties grown in East Texas are in fair shape, he said.
But there is yet another way of calculating chilling hours, the Utah model, which may spell trouble for some varieties, he said. By the Utah model, the hours above about 60 degrees are subtracted from the total, Hansen said.
“I think that may be where the concern is, with the warm weather we had in January,” he said.
More information on chilling hours can be found at the Overton center weather website at http://etweather.tamu.edu/.
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 period of Jan. 30 through Feb. 6.
Central: Rains filled stock ponds and lakes, and raised soil-moisture levels. Warmer-than-normal weather and sunshine brought small grains to life. Pastures and small grains that had been fertilized earlier were growing exceptionally well. Small grains and pastures were reported to look the best for this time of year since 2009. Wheat and oats were doing well after the recent rains, especially those fields that producers planted late. Ranchers who had been holding off for a rain, began receiving stocker cattle. Sunflower planting was expected to start in the next week or two, followed closely by corn planting. Some producers were concerned whether winter wheat had had enough chilling hours. Farmers were applying nitrogen fertilizer. Beef cattle producers are still struggling with the expense of supplemental feeding.
Coastal Bend: Some areas received great rains during the reporting period. Soil moisture levels improved, helping plans for row-crop planting within the next 30 days. The moisture, along with warm weather and sunshine, made excellent growing conditions for winter forages and clover. Cattlemen, however, were concerned that with the amount of clover growing there was high potential for bloat in livestock, and they were placing anti-bloat blocks in fields. In the region’s southern counties, drought conditions persisted. There was very little runoff and stock pond levels remained critical.
East: Scattered rains fell across the region. Warmer-than-normal temperatures and the recent rains improved winter forages. Some producers were able to graze cattle on pastures, helping relieve some of the stress of finding quality hay. Lake, pond and creek levels rose. Farmers continued preparing fields for spring vegetable planting. Wild pigs remained a problem, with the animals invading residential areas of larger cities.
Far West: The first week of February brought foggy, drizzly and damp mornings, but no measurable rainfall. Temperatures were above normal, with highs in the upper 60s to 70s and lows near freezing to the 40s. By the weekend, daytime highs dropped to the upper 40s, and windy conditions raised the danger of wildfire. Pastures were greening up some with cool-season forbs and grasses, but their growth was not sufficient to provide additional nutrition for livestock. Producers were still feeding cattle, both stockers and brood cows, while others were shipping livestock to feedlots. It was the middle of calving season for most herds. Ranchers were struggling to maintain the condition of cattle they hung onto throughout the drought and were providing large amounts of supplemental feed. There were reports of locoweed in Presidio County. Small grains under irrigation were in fair condition and provided some grazing. Lambing and kidding season was expected to begin soon. Farmers were preparing cotton fields for planting by applying pre-emergent herbicides and pre-watering. Fall-planted onions were coming out of dormancy. Pecans growers were pruning orchards.
North: From 2 to 5 inches of rain raised soil-moisture levels. Days were unseasonably warm, with highs in the 70s. Cattle producers were taking advantage of the warm weather to turn cattle in on winter pastures and reduce the amount of hay and supplements they were feeding. Producers were very optimistic about the upcoming hay and summer-grazing season. Warm temperatures caused trees to bud prematurely, which caused concern for some for fruit and nut crops. The heavy rains also replenished stock ponds. Most were now full for the first time in a year. Feral hogs remained a major problem.
Panhandle: Temperatures were above average for most of the reporting period, then dropped to near average. Part of the region received some moisture late in the week, with accumulations ranging from a trace to 1.5 inches. Soil-moisture levels varied from adequate to very short with most reporting short to very short. Winter wheat was in poor to very poor condition. Most rangeland and pastures were in poor to very poor condition. Cattle were reported as mostly in good condition, with a few herds on irrigated wheat experiencing bloating issues. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding of livestock.
Rolling Plains: Conditions remained dry in the region’s western counties. Pastures and rangeland were in poor condition as producers fed supplements to cattle on a daily basis. Producers who had access to winter wheat have been grazing cattle on it for the past month, hoping it will hold them through winter. Without any moisture, producers may have to start selling off cattle again. Farmers have begun preparing fields for this year’s crop, but without any moisture, there is only so much they can do. As they begin to think about the new crop, the possibility of another drought year lingers in their minds and is playing an important role in how they go about preparing fields and how much money they are willing to invest in production costs. Cotton producers were reserving cottonseed, but were cautious about planting high-dollar varieties. In contrast, the eastern counties reported the recent rains left rangeland and pastures in good condition. The wheat looked great there and stock tanks were full.
South: Much of the region received rain, but with few exceptions, accumulations were not enough to improve rangeland and pastures very much. Brooks County received the most with 2 to 3 inches, while Atascosa County got about 2.5 inches. Some pastures showed signs of green-up due to warm weather. However, cattle were generally not doing well. Body condition scores have further declined from fair to poor as calving season continued, and cows needed better nutrition. The cost of hay and protein supplements continued to increase, and stock tanks on many ranches remained at very low levels or were completely dried out. Webb County reported the cost of round bales of hay at about $150 and square bales at about $13 each. In Atascosa County, oats and wheat responded very well to the rains. In Jim Wells County, field activities were on hold until more rain was received. In Zavala County, dryland oat and wheat fields were mostly in fair to good condition. Also in that area, spinach fields were nearly ready for a second cutting. In Cameron County, corn harvesting was ongoing, as well as pre-irrigation for spring planting. In Starr County, spring planting was ongoing.
Southeast: Temperatures were above average with high humidity. Many parts of the region received from 1.5 to as much as 6 inches of rain over the last couple of weeks. Stock ponds were filling up. Soil moisture conditions were improving. With rains falling in the northern Brazos valley, the Brazos River was once again flowing. Lake levels to the north also rose, which improved the outlook for rice production in the lower Brazos River Basin. However, water companies had not yet indicated that water will be available for rice for the 2012 crop. Cattle producers report that drought-killed trees were being felled by high winds and were falling on fences, causing extensive damage. Though pastures improved from the rain, they still had a long way to go to full recovery. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding of cattle that they had kept through the drought.
Southwest: As much as 2 inches of rain fell in some areas. The rain and warm weather greatly accelerated winter pasture growth. Topsoil moisture improved. Small grain pastures seemed to be slow going and were being moderately grazed. Winter wheat made good progress. Farmers were preparing to plant corn and sorghum. Trees were on the verge of budding. Lambing and kidding were under way. Livestock producers were maintaining herd numbers for now, and supplemental feeding of cattle continued in some areas.
South Plains: Most counties reported no precipitation, above-average temperatures and windy conditions.Winter wheat was struggling due to the drought. Farmers were performing some field preparations for spring planting where conditions allowed. Pasture and rangeland needed moisture.
West Central: Temperatures were very mild with warm days and cool nights. Farmers were preparing land for spring planting as weather permitted. Winter wheat improved with the recent moisture and warm temperatures. Some areas reported Hessian fly infestations. Rangeland and pastures continued to improve with the growth of cool-season grasses and winter weeds. Livestock owners continued supplemental feeding of cattle. Many producers who were lambing and kidding reported predator problems.