Drought recedes, but conditions still dicey in some regions

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COLLEGE STATION – The drought continued to recede with less than 14 percent of the state rated as being in an exceptional or extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor and Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

Farmers’ optimism rose in many areas as soil-moisture levels improved, making the harvesting of hay possible, improving pastures and rangeland, and bettering the chances for spring plantings to be successful.

“Producers are jumping for joy after all this rain,” said Raymond Quigg, AgriLife Extension agent for Upton County, south of Odessa. “The ranchers have seen the country start to green up a little. Farmers are ready to plant seed ASAP. Rangeland has had some moisture and the tint of brown has turned to a slim shade of green.”

“Winter wheat and oats have been harvested with less than outstanding results that have been attributed to dry conditions at planting,” said J.D. Folbre, AgriLife Extension agent for Karnes County, southeast of San Antonio. “However, a crop was made, and we are in better shape than last year at this time so many producers have a positive outlook. Range and pasture conditions are improving but effects of the drought will take one to two consecutive years of average to above-average rainfall to overcome the effects.”

“Rain was awesome last week,” said Todd Williams, AgriLife Extension agent for Rockwall County, east of Dallas. “The cooler weather is allowing some of the winter weeds to hang on just a bit longer. We have had some very nice dews in the morning to help with moisture.”

But in other areas, particularly parts of the Rolling Plains and South Plains, despite a partial rollback of the drought, the outlook for some crops remained dire.

For example, Ryan Martin, AgriLife Extension agent for Motley County in the Rolling Plains, reported conditions were becoming dry again.

“Pastures are beginning to play out with little to no grazing left for cattle,” Martin said. “If nothing changes within the next few weeks, farmers are afraid they will be in the same shape as they were in last year. Soil moisture is minimal to 24 inches deep, and it’s not enough to plant or support summer grasses.”

“Once again, hot and dry winds combined with temperatures bouncing around 100, have really started to dry things out here,” said Cody Myers, AgriLife Extension agent for Stonewall County, north of Abilene. “However, pasture grasses have really improved and some dirt tanks have even caught a little water. It won’t be long before the wheat harvest and cotton planting are finished, and then we will be in need of another good soaking.”

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 May 15-21:

The 12 Texas AgriLife Extension Service Districts

Central: The region had good rains. Vegetable crops were maturing early. Some peaches were already ripe, and all fruits continued to make good progress. Livestock and wildlife had access to full stock-water tanks. Farmers and ranchers harvested small grains for silage. Yields of oats and wheat were well above average. Hay production was ongoing, with yields of two to four bales per acre – sometimes more.

Coastal Bend: The region received rain with high winds. There were reports of a few tornadoes, but most rain fell in a slow and gentle fashion, giving the area a nice soaking. Most corn was in the silk stage and looking good. Grain sorghum was in varying stages of development, with only about 30 percent of the entire crop headed. Cotton was still very immature, needing warmer weather to begin to grow well. The winter wheat and oat harvests were finished with less than outstanding yields because of dry conditions at planting. However, most farmers were glad to have made a crop at all, feeling they were in a lot better shape than last year at this time. Sunflowers were in full bloom, and some sesame was planted. Pastures looked good, but the growth of some warm-season grasses slowed by competition from cool-season forages.

East: The region received spotty showers, but there wasn’t enough accumulation to affect the agricultural situation. Soils continued to dry out. Hay supplies were boosted from first cuttings. Producers sprayed for warm-season weeds. Feral hogs continued to be a problem. Livestock were in good condition.

Far West: Highs were in the upper 70s and lower 80s, with lows in the upper 50s. Many counties had more rain — from 0.5 inch to 2 inches. Midland County reported a total of 4 inches, which improved soil-moisture levels but had yet to pull the area out of severe drought. Glasscock County farmers planted sunflowers. Pastures greened up in some areas. In Crane County, new grass was sprouting and old growth was greening up in areas burnt last year by wildfire. El Paso County farmers took their first alfalfa cutting. Livestock were looking better due to the rains improving grazing.

North: The region received from 1 inch to 4 inches of rain, which was much needed for crops and pasture grasses. The wheat harvest had just begun before the rains hit. Early yield reports were around 60 bushels per acre, which was above average. The rains also slowed down hay harvesting. There were a few reports of corn rootworms in some fields. There were also reports of grasshoppers and armyworms, and some producers were already spraying to control the pests. Soybeans and sorghum were in good condition with 100 percent planted. Peaches continued to look very good. Mealybugs were reported northwest of Sulphur Springs. Cattle were in good condition with beef prices steady. Stable fly populations were on the rise. Sporadic blooms of filamentous algae and duckweed in ponds were reported in Hopkins County. Feral hogs continue to be a problem.

Panhandle: Temperatures were near average, and soil moisture levels varied from very short to adequate, with most counties reporting short. Rainfall ranged from 0.5 inch to 3.25 inches. Corn planting wound down, and early planted corn emerged, with most fields in good condition. Farmers continued to plant cotton and grain sorghum. Wheat was in very poor to excellent condition, with most counties reporting fair. Rangeland and pastures were in very poor to good condition, with most reporting poor. The condition of cattle improved.

Rolling Plains: The wheat harvest was in full swing with yields reported being average or below normal. Some counties were finishing the wheat harvest as much as three weeks earlier than usual. One county reported that yields varied greatly due to rust damage in some fields. Conditions were beginning to become dry. Wise County reported from 0.2 inch to 2 inches of rain, but over the last few weeks, conditions for most of the region worsened due to lack of moisture and hot, dry, windy weather. Pastures were beginning to play out with little to no grazing left for cattle. Some producers were considering liquidating more cattle due to the lack of grazing and the long-range forecast not calling for rain. Farmers who have not started planting cotton were slowly getting planters ready, but no one was in any hurry due to the lack of moisture to plant. Without rain, the cotton outlook will not be good. Flies and insects continued to be a problem. The grasshopper population also continued to increase. Hay production was fair to good. The pecan crop was fair to good. The peach crop was reported as good, with growers spraying for insects.

South: Heavy rains and persistent showers throughout the region helped rangeland, pastures and many crops. Soil moisture was 100 percent adequate in the northern and southern parts of the region and short to very short in the eastern and western areas. Stock-tank water levels rose in areas where there was rain runoff. Cattle remained in good to fair condition, and cattle prices were high. Livestock producers were only having to supply supplemental feed at minimum levels due to improved range and pasture conditions. Atascosa County farmers began to plant peanuts. In Frio County, producers wound up the wheat and oat harvests. La Salle County reported excellent topsoil moisture. In Zavala County, growers resumed harvesting onions and cabbage as fields began to dry. Also in that area, cotton, corn, sorghum and melons progressed well without irrigation due to the heavy rains. Pecan producers were monitoring for insects daily. In Cameron County, cotton was setting squares, grain sorghum was turning color and melons were progressing well. In Hidalgo County, the vegetable and citrus harvests wound down. In Starr County, the tomato, squash and cantaloupe harvests were ongoing. Crops in the Willacy County area showed signs of very good growth.

South Plains: Recent rains encouraged producers to step up cotton planting. Most were planting in irrigated areas first, hoping for more rain to fill the soil profile before planting dryland acres. High temperatures were for the most part in the 80s and 90s, with a few cloudy, cooler days. There was not enough rain soon enough to help most of the winter wheat crop, and most was harvested for forage, with some irrigated fields still maturing. Sorghum and sunflowers progressed well. Pastures were steadily improving after the rain. But it will take a while for range to recover as weeds have flourished on bare ground. Cattle were mostly in fair to good condition and improving.

Southeast: Lows were in the 60s with highs in the upper 80s. Winter annual grasses were harvested for hay, with weed control the next issue. Some areas received rain, but less than 1 inch.

Southwest: Most counties received rain, with amounts varying widely, from 1 inch to 8 inches. The rain, plus below-normal daytime temperatures, greatly benefited field crops and pastures. There was some crop damage from heavy rains in Gillespie County. Stock tanks were replenished in many areas.

West Central: Daytime weather was mild, and nights cool and damp. The wheat harvest was in full swing with good yields. Much of wheat was grazed out or baled for hay. Cotton farmers in many areas began planting. Rangeland and pastures were boosted by recent rains, but weeds continued to be a problem in all areas. Coastal Bermuda grass fields still had bare patches from 2011, but were improving. Stock tanks were full in most areas. Livestock were in good condition. Sheep and goat producers were finishing working goats and shearing sheep. Ranchers became very optimistic and began restocking cattle, sheep and goats herds. Pecan spraying programs were under way for case-bearer.


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