COLLEGE STATION — The drought continued to expand in Texas, stunting crop growth, delaying planting and putting additional stress on livestock producers, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.
As of March 22, the U.S. Drought Monitor ranked 29 percent of Texas as being under an extreme drought, and more than another 30 percent as being under severe drought. Overall, according to the monitor, 98 percent of the state is abnormally dry. More information on the drought monitor and its drought-classification scheme can be found at http://www.drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html.
At this point, there are going to have be some very significant rains to make a difference in the crop situation, said Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension program leader and associate department head of the soil and crop sciences department, College Station.
“We measure drought over a three-month period, a six-month period, a year and so on,” Miller said. “When you get a long-term deficit, it really takes a pretty good rain to move the needle and put you back into a normal situation.”
All crops have been affected by the drought, including irrigated ones, but wheat is the one that’s suffering the most right now, he said.
There’s been a lot of corn, sorghum and some cotton going into the ground on “pretty marginal moisture” in South Texas, Central Texas and North Texas, Miller said.
Dry planting is risky even during normal times. But during a drought, farmers risk losing seed and other production costs if the planting is not followed soon by rain.
For cotton farmers, this risk has been magnified by recent advances in plant technology, Miller said. Most of the cotton seed used today is transgenetic and may cost $100 or more an acre — as much as ten times what it cost in the late 1990s.
“So farmers are really reluctant to dry-seed — and I would be so myself — with what a bag of cotton seed costs,” Miller said.
As for wheat, there have been numerous reports from AgriLife Extension county agents the crop is maturing too early, but this is a result of the warmer than normal temperatures and moisture stress, he said. Irrigated wheat is in better shape, but of the approximately 6 million acres of wheat grown in Texas, with only about 1 million acres under irrigation.
But very high wheat prices, higher than have been seen for years, means there is a real incentive to irrigate wheat despite high pumping costs, he said.