Texas Crop Weather: Drought Narrows Panhandle Growers’ Options

    While drought conditions for large parts of Texas were rolling back, the dry weather continued to limit options for producers in the Panhandle, Rolling Plains and South Plains regions, according to reports from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

    The Panhandle remained dry, with the western half generally drier, said Rick Auckerman, AgriLife Extension agent for Deaf Smith County.

    “In Deaf Smith County, we’re like the rest of the Panhandle — very dry,” Auckerman said. “As for subsoil moisture, there basically is none.”

    Options? There’s irrigation, he said. But without supplemental rainfall, dropping aquifer levels will lead to dropping planting rates and looking at other cropping systems.

    From testing, aquifers levels were dropping. How much they were going down depended upon how hard they had been pumped, Auckerman said.

    “There have been some with 4- to 5-foot reductions just over the past 12 months, depending on the area,” he said. “Most of these guys are trying to get by on 18 inches of water, but as you know, with a corn crop, whether it’s for silage or food corn, it requires quite a bit more moisture than Mother Nature supplies.”

    For dryland acreage, which constitutes approximately two-thirds of farmed land in the county, the options are even narrower, Auckerman said. Economic demands will require farmers to plant on dry soil, just in the hope that they will get enough precipitation to bring the crop up.

    “If that doesn’t happen, it’ll be tough-decision time,” he said.

    AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

    Central: The region had extremely cold conditions early in the week, with warmer temperatures and high winds late in the week. Some counties received precipitation, from 0.1 to about 0.5 inch. Farmers were performing fieldwork where possible. Small grains were surviving, but needed moisture badly. Winter wheat was being used for supplemental grazing. Cattle remained in good condition, with pro ducers continuing to feed hay. There was a wide range of temperatures, ranging from upper teens to middle 70s. Field conditions remained dry with preparation continuing for corn planting. Cattle prices continued to rise. Cull cow prices were up, with some bringing as much as $102.50 per hundredweight. Depending on weather, most corn farmers were expected to wait until around Feb. 14 to re-enter fields and plant corn. When they finish planting corn, it will be time to plant grain sorghum.

    Coastal Bend: The week began with cold, icy conditions and temperatures in the 20s and 30s, but by the end of the week, highs were in the mid 70s. Rain showers provided little moisture. Ranchers were struggling with declining rangeland and pastures due to the dry conditions and extreme shifts in temperature. Wheat was in decent condition but had been heavily grazed by migratory birds. Grape growers were preparing to start pruning. Livestock continued to require lots of hay and protein. Spring calves were beginning to arrive in most herds. Growers continued to apply preplant fertilizer and make preemergent herbicide applications.

    East: Cold and wet weather continued. The southern part of the region had ice and snow. Along with the cold, the windy weather was stunting winter pastures. Some bottomland wheat was never planted due to wet conditions. Hay usage remained high as most livestock producers were providing supplemental feeding. Hay supplies in the southern counties were running short because of low production last summer. Trinity County producers were buying hay out of county; many had to go out of state for hay. Despite the cold weather, cattle generally remained in good condition. Cows were calving and calves were growing well. Goat production was up, and the market remained strong. Farmers were preparing fields for spring planting, in some areas planting onions and preparing to plant potatoes and corn. Feral hog activity continued.

    Far West: A cold front brought from a trace to 1 inch of frozen precipitation. Cotton producers and ranchers were pleased with the moisture. The pecan harvest was finished, but orchard owners still had work to do, such as pruning and cleaning plants for the late-harvested pecans. Ewes looked really good, and lambs were strong. Cattle were holding condition on supplemental feed, and calving continued.

    North: About 2 inches of rain mixed with sleet fell across the region. However, the weather generally continued to be cool and dry, and topsoil moisture ranged from short to very short across the region. Continual high winds robbed the soil of any excess moisture. The cool, dry weather was hard on winter pastures and wheat, putting growth at a standstill. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued. Livestock were becoming stressed. Wild hog activity remained high in Camp and Kaufman counties.

    Panhandle: The weather was very windy, with temperatures all over the board again. Temperatures were below average early in the week, warming to above average for a day, then back to near normal by the weekend. Winter weather on Feb. 2 did not produce the anticipated moisture, only deep chills and a dry dusting of snow. Producers had to break ice to allow cattle access to water. Farmers were preparing fields for spring planting. Producers were still concerned about what to plant for this spring; the markets may make the decisions for them. Very dry conditions made some producers consider starting irrigation on some wheat. There were limited numbers of stocker cattle on wheat pasture, with some being placed on dryland grass pastures. Wheeler County reported the body conditions of cattle were declining because of cold weather and very little protein in grasses. Producers were supplementing cattle with protein and hay. Wheat was severely moisture stressed.

    Rolling Plains: The region remained dry, with temperatures fluctuating between freezing and 70 degrees. The continued dry weather resulted in burn bans being implemented in several counties. Ranchers increased supplemental feeding as pastures and rangelands were playing out and this year’s wheat crop just hadn’t performed as producers would have liked it to. The wheat crop emerged and looked good at first, but lack of moisture soon took a toll and very little of the crop was left. Livestock were currently in good condition as some producers sold off calves earlier than normal. Selling was considered a “no-brainer” for some producers, with cattle prices high and the lack of grazing. Spring calving continued with decent weather. The cotton harvest was very near completion. Cotton prices remained at a very favorable level. Farmers were slowly beginning to get back into fields to do fieldwork for spring planting. O ne county reported the canola was damaged again due to three consecutive mornings with temperatures below 20 degrees, including one morning at 8 degrees. Rangeland and pastures remained in poor to fair condition. Livestock were in good condition.

    South: Cold nighttime and mild daytime temperatures continued. Some areas got light showers, but no significant rain was reported. In the northern part of the region, soil moisture levels were short to very short. Rangeland and pastures continued to decline, both in quality and quantity, as the winter progressed. Livestock producers were supplying supplemental feed at a steady pace, so livestock were in fair condition. In the eastern part of the region, rangeland and pastures also continue to decline due to lack of rain. Cold, dry weather in Jim Wells County took any remaining topsoil moisture. Soil moisture conditions were short. Range and pasture conditions were fair. In the western part of the region, temperatures warmed up in the day and dropped to very cold during the night and early morning hours. Cattle numbers were declining due to forced drought liquidations and high costs per head associated with restock ing. In Zapata County, both livestock and vegetation were in fair condition. Zavala County reported temperatures in the mid 40s. The cold temperatures did not affect current cool-season crops such as cabbage, spinach, onions and carrots. Wheat and oats also seemed unaffected. In the southern part of the region, cold, wet weather slowed or halted field activities. Soil moisture was mostly 50 to 80 percent adequate in all southern counties except for Starr County, where soil moisture was 70 percent short. In Cameron County, cold soil temperatures put grain and sunflower planting on hold. In Hidalgo County, the vegetable, citrus and sugarcane harvests continued. Rangeland and pastures in that part of the region remained in fair condition.

    South Plains: Roller coaster weather continued, with high temperatures varying from the upper 70s to the single digits. Borden County reported 8 inches of snow. Floyd and Lubbock counties reported snowfall of less than 2 inches. Generally, the region remained very dry. All cotton was harvested, though some ginning was still being done in Mitchell County. Producers were preparing fields for spring planting, weather allowing. Pasture and rangeland needed moisture; livestock producers were offsetting low quality forages and cold weather stress with supplemental feeding.

    Southeast: Soil moisture levels throughout the region varied widely, mostly in the adequate range, but with some counties reporting from 60 percent short to as much as 90 percent surplus. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, from poor to excellent, with fair to good ratings being the most common. Soil moisture in Brazoria County was getting short due to warmer, windy weather. Livestock there remained in good condition. The ice storm in Chambers County the previous last week still made the ground unsuitable for working. Galveston had freezing rain and sleet. Madison County reported that several hard freezes had stunted winter forage growth. The cold, rainy, windy weather in Montgomery County stressed plants and animals. In Orange County, freezing weather persisted for 30 hours, followed by several overnight freezes.

    Southwest: Conditions remained very dry with no rain forecast. Temperatures swung up and down drastically. Overall, winter wheat and oats remained in good condition, though more moisture was needed to maintain quality. Livestock and wildlife apparently fared well through the cold weather. Producers were relying on purchased feed to supplement livestock. Prices for sheep, goats and cattle were at near record highs.

    West Central: Weather was mixed, with very cold weather and some sleet early in the week, to above average temperatures with high winds later in the week. The extremely, dry, windy conditions increased the danger of wildfire. Field activity was underway as producers plowed cotton fields, shredded stalks and prepared for spring planting. The cotton harvest was wrapping up with very few acres left unharvested. Most yield reports were below average. Some producers continued to plant winter wheat. Already planted winter wheat was in fair condition but was showing signs of drought stress. Rangeland and pastures continue to decline due to lack of moisture. Livestock remained in fair condition. Producers continued to increase supplemental feeding of livestock with hay and protein.

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