Texas Crop, Weather: Water Supply, Crop Prices Remain a Concern

    Texas farmers, ranchers and growers have a lot to be thankful for this November, but they still face many challenges, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

    “Much of the state got excellent rains over the weekend, and if they have winter wheat out or winter pastures, that rainfall will go a long way toward taking those crops through the winter,” said Dr. Travis Miller, interim associate director for AgriLife Extension state operation, College Station. “These rains are very beneficial in recharging moisture in soil profiles and providing water for stock tanks and other surface water supplies.

    “But looking at the overall picture, despite the rainfall, there are still some very dry conditions out there, leading to a number of issues relating to crop and water supply,” Miller said.

    One challenge farmers must currently contend with is depressed prices for crops, he said.

    “That encompasses most of the major crops we grow, including all the feed grains and cotton,” Miller said. “Corn and sorghum and cotton prices are low. Wheat prices are not quite as low, but they’ve dropped too. So growers are looking for alternatives that might make them a little money.”

    The other challenge is one farmers and ranchers face every year: low water supplies and drought, he said.

    “Irrigated agriculture depends largely on water supplies,” Miller said. “We have to look at not only how much we have in the soil profile, but also our surface water supplies, such as reservoirs, lakes, rivers and stock ponds.”

    Despite 2014 being a much wetter year than the four previous years, a lot of surface water supplies that agriculture depends upon remain low, Miller said. For example, the Colorado River Authority is seeking permission to deny water for rice production for a fourth year in a row on the Gulf Coast. That’s due to lack of rain in the Highland Lakes area northwest of Austin.

    There are also significant water supply issues in the Rolling Plains, he said.

    Long-term solutions include upgrading water delivery systems so they are more efficient at minimizing water loss than current canals and ditches, such as ongoing projects by AgriLife Extension irrigation specialists, Miller said.

    Another partial solution is the development of crops that are more drought tolerant or more efficient water users, he said. AgriLife specialists and researchers, in cooperation with major seed companies, are also working on more drought-tolerant crops, and have been for a number of years.

    “But we’re talking about drought ‘tolerance,’ not drought ‘resistance,'” he said. “There’s only so far we can go in that direction.”

    AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

    The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service DistrictsThe 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Districts

    Central: The region had very cold temperatures – considerably colder than normal for this time of year. Some areas reported 2 to 2.5 inches of rain over the weekend. The coldest nighttime temperature was 24 degrees during the early morning hours of Nov. 17. Small grains looked very good. Irrigated cotton yields were good. Livestock were in good to fair condition. Winter wheat fields were in fair shape after the rains gave them a push. Stock-water tanks were full, and both pasture and forages were good. Hay stocks were good as well, so producers had a head start on what has been projected to be a cold winter. With the cooler weather, livestock producers were providing supplemental feed to livestock. The most common supplementation was with hay. Small grains are more tolerant of colder temperatures while in the vegetative stage, so earlier planted fields were expected not to be damaged by the cold. However, newly planted small grains require a minimum average daily soil temperature of 45 to 50 degrees for good germination and adequate stand establishment, so development may be slowed. There were still a few small-grain producers drilling in wheat that will be later harvested for grain.

    Coastal Bend: Recent slow, soaking rains raised soil moisture to ideal levels for winter forage growth and performance. Producers planned to sow spring wheat in the next few weeks. Many growers were readying fields for cultivation and fertilizer application. Some producers were still trying to take one last hay cutting, but continued wet conditions were interfering. The ratoon rice harvest continued. The pecan harvest was in full swing. Cattle feeding increased, and cattle and calf prices rose over those the previous week.

    East: Rain fell across the region, with Houston County reporting from 4 to 6 inches. Accompanying the rain came several days of freezing temperatures as a cold front pushed through. Remaining warm-season forages were pushed into dormancy. Winter pastures looked good, with ryegrass emerging and growing. Angelina County reported winter wheat was 95 percent emerged. Henderson County reported winter oats as 100 percent emerged. All counties except Shelby reported subsoil moisture and topsoil moisture as mostly adequate. Many livestock producers were feeding hay and supplements. Hay sales increased slightly. Cattle were in good condition. Prices and demand continued to be strong, with some classes $2 to $4 higher per hundredweight. Fall calving was in progress. The cotton harvest was finished. Dryland fields yielded two bales per acre, with fair to good quality. The pecan harvest was about 65 percent complete, with fair to good quality. Pecan scab was reported on some varieties. Hickory shuckworm damage was moderate. Feral hogs continued to cause destruction. Lake and pond levels were good.

    Far West: Cold, dry conditions were the norm for the region. Pasture and rangeland were in fair to poor condition. Subsoil moisture ranged from adequate to short, and topsoil moisture was short to very short. Depending upon the county, upland cotton was from 40 to 90 percent harvested. From 80 to 100 percent of corn was harvested. The grain sorghum and sunflower harvests were completed. From 40 to 85 percent of winter wheat was emerged. Rangeland was in fair to poor condition. About 30 percent of Martin County oats were planted. The cotton harvest was fully underway, and wheat planting continued. Mesquite leaves were falling, and warm-season grasses were going dormant.

    North: Topsoil moisture was mostly adequate. Another cold front early in the week brought a light dusting of snow on the morning of Nov. 17. About 0.5 inch of rain fell on Nov. 20-21. Winter wheat looked good. Early planted winter pastures were emerged and looking good. However, the hard killing freeze suppressed winter pasture growth. The extremely cold weather stressed livestock and required producers to supply additional feed. The feral hog population was on the rise and continued to cause damage.

    Panhandle: The week began with colder temperatures and snow for most of the region. Soil moisture was from very short to adequate. The area’s wheat crop was in all stages of development, from just being planted to having cattle grazing. Overall, the wheat crop was in good condition with a few producers starting to irrigate. Cotton harvesting was still behind, and the recent snowfall stopped stripping. Cattle on rangeland required supplemental feed. Stocker cattle were still being placed on wheat pasture where it was ready for grazing. Foggy, dewy conditions hindered the Collingsworth County cotton harvest near the weekend. The harvest there was approximately half completed with good yields and quality. Deaf Smith County producers were trying to wrap up harvesting for the year and prepare for 2015. Corn harvesting was basically completed, with good yields, and some stalks being baled for feed at the dairies and feed yards. Last week’s snow delayed finishing the grain sorghum and sunflower harvests. The Ochiltree County cotton and sorghum harvests wound down. In Randall County, all fieldwork was delayed after about a 5 inch, wet snow. The Wheeler County corn harvest was completed, but the cotton harvest has been slowed by wet conditions. Hemphill County reported having an outstanding grass crop, and cattle were in excellent condition. Also, reports of wildlife populations, such as quail, turkeys and deer were much improved over the past several years. Rangeland and pastures continued to be rated mostly fair.

    Rolling Plains: The region received about 1 inch of snow and about 0.25 inch of rain. The moisture put a damper on cotton harvesting, but producers weren’t complaining. With the cotton crop being late in development, most fields weren’t quite ready for harvest. A hard freeze the previous week was the first for the area, and it helped get cotton not been already defoliated closer to being harvest-ready. Winter wheat was in good condition, helped by the recent moisture. Livestock were also in good condition, as were pastures. Some producers were beginning to move cattle to wheat acres, while others were holding off to allow wheat to grow a little more.

    South: The region had cooler day and night temperatures with scattered showers that helped improve soil moisture, rangeland and pastures. In the northern part of the region, peanut harvesting continued but at a slower pace due to wet conditions. Soil moisture was mostly adequate, with Atascosa County reporting 80 percent adequate soil moisture, Frio County reporting 100 percent short subsoil moisture to 75 percent adequate topsoil moisture, and McMullen County reporting 80 percent adequate soil moisture. In the eastern part of the region, cattle producers continued wildlife supplemental feeding, but cattle were doing well without extra feed, as grazing on pastures was good. Subsoil was 80 percent short and topsoil moisture 100 percent adequate in Kleberg and Kenedy counties. In Brooks County, soil moisture was 70 to 90 percent adequate, and 50 to 100 percent adequate in Jim Hogg and Jim Wells counties. In the wes tern par t of the region, supplemental feeding was suspended due to adequate forage availability. Improved field conditions allowed harvesting of both fresh market and processing spinach varieties. Onions and cabbage progressed well throughout the week due to cooler temperatures and good soil moisture. Cabbage harvesting was also active. Soil moisture was 50 to 70 percent adequate in Webb County, 50 percent adequate in Maverick County, 80 percent surplus in Webb County and 100 percent short in Zavala County. In the southern part of the region, soil moisture was 50 percent adequate in Cameron County, 100 percent adequate in Hidalgo County, 80 percent adequate in Starr County and 75 to 85 percent surplus in Willacy County. Many fields throughout the area remained saturated after more rain during the week. There was plenty of forage available for grazing. Corn was maturing, and tomatoes, onions and cabbage were doing well with the additional moisture. Citrus harvesting continued in Hidalgo County. Willacy County received 1 inch to 2 inches of rain, and there were reports of standing water in fields and low areas.

    South Plains: Warmer, dryer weather this week allowed producers to get back into the fields and continue harvesting. The cotton harvest was still running behind. To date, Floyd County cotton yields and quality were average to good. Garza County received from a trace to 1 inch of rain, which slowed cotton harvesting. About 35 to 45 percent of the Garza County cotton was harvested. Yields varied widely, from as low as 200 pounds per acre to as much as one bale per acre on dryland fields. Irrigated fields were yielding from a bale to nearly three bales per acre. Cattle were in good condition. The Lubbock County cotton harvest was hampered at the beginning of the week by moisture from snowfall. Harvesting resumed by Nov. 19, and was nearly half finished by the end of the week. Area wheat fields showed leaf-tip burn from extremely cold conditions the prior week. Winds on Nov. 23 gusted to 47 mph across much of the region. Rangeland and pastures were in good shape for this time of year, with plentiful forage available for grazing. In overgrazed pastures, ranchers had to begin providing supplemental feed on a limited basis.

    Southeast: Some areas received from 2.5 to 0.5 inches of rain. Soil-moisture levels throughout the region varied widely, mostly in the adequate to surplus range, with Chambers County reporting 100 percent adequate, and Hardin County reporting 100 percent surplus. Rangeland and pasture were mostly in excellent to good condition. In Chambers County, the ratoon rice crop harvest was in full swing. The colder temperatures helped the rice to mature quicker. Recent rains promoted the growth of winter pastures. Ryegrass, wheat and clovers were all responding to the moisture, though freezing temperatures early in the week slowed warm-season grass growth. Livestock were in good condition.

    Southwest: Cold, windy weather during the first part of the week stopped the growth of warm-season grasses. Many counties received the first freeze of the season on Nov. 18. Over the weekend, from 2 to 4 inches of rain fell, which was followed by Gulf winds that warmed the region back up. Temperatures went from 30 degrees to the 60s and 70s. With extra forage growth from recent rains, fire danger was expected to be a concern heading into the winter. The pecan harvest was fully underway, then slowed down by wet conditions. Oats and ryegrass needed the additional moisture for continued growth. The sesame harvest neared completion. Cattle and sheep prices remained high. Livestock were in good condition. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued in most areas.

    West Central: Temperatures varied widely throughout the week, with cold weather and a hard freeze early, then days warmed up, and there was rain by late in the week. The cotton harvest continued where field conditions allowed, but most cotton harvesting was put on hold by the rains. Irrigated cotton yields were fair; dryland yields were fair to poor. Wheat growers were planting behind harvested cotton. Already planted winter wheat improved, with the earlier planted fields nearly ready to be grazed. Rangeland and pasture conditions declined due to the hard freeze that sent warm-season grasses into dormancy. Stock-tank water levels continued to drop, with some at critical levels. Winter supplemental feeding of livestock continued to increase. Livestock were in fair to good condition as producers finished fall cattle work. Prices remained strong as did demand. The pecan harvest was well underway, with quality ranging from very good to less than ideal.

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