Texas Crop Weather: When Will El Niño Predicted Rains Arrive?

    Climatologists predict the current super-strong El Niño will bring another rain-drenched fall, winter and early spring to Texas.

    Ok, that’s fine but when? Many farmers needing moisture now are wondering when they can expect the promised moisture to arrive, according to weekly reports by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county agents.

    “It depends upon where you’re at, really,” said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist and Regents Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University, College Station. “The effects seem to come sooner in the northern part of the state than in the southern part of the state.”

    Unfortunately, September is too soon to expect wetter conditions related to El Niño anywhere in the state, he said.

    “But once we get in October/November, the northern two-thirds of the state should generally start to see above-normal rainfall,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “Basically anywhere from the Winter Garden south tends to see delayed effects of El Niño.”

    For South Texas, the enhanced wet conditions tend to be concentrated in December, January and February, he said.

    “And often times there will be a dry month in the northern part of the state during those months,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

    A large part of the state has had drier than normal conditions this summer, he noted.

    “We’ve had a dry swath that has run across north central, northeast Texas and down through central Texas, and along the Mexico border as well.”

    There’s no sure reason why this dry weather occurred, but one conjecture is that it is connected with “how temperatures evolve when you’re coming out of a drought into something that favors rainfall,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

    “So far it hasn’t been very different from 1957,” he said. “When the 50s drought ended, we had a very wet April and May, and then the summer was dry, and some places got back into drought before we started above-normal rainfall again in the fall.”

    Nielsen-Gammon is also a contributor to the Climate Change National Forum, “a public forum for scientists to explain the science of climate change, in plain English,” according the forum’s website.

    AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

    Central: Soil moisture was rated as poor; overall rangeland and pasture conditions were fair. Crops were generally in good condition, as were livestock. Parts of the region had scattered showers but there were no significant accumulations. Most corn was harvested. Yields were highly variable even just rows apart in the same field, but the overall yields were likely to fall real close to about average of 80 to 90 bushels per acre. Grain sorghum yields fell short of average at about 3,000 pounds per acre. Farmers and ranchers were preparing land for winter grazing. Stock water tanks and streams still held water, but levels were getting low. Because of grasshoppers, armyworms and hard dry ground, small-grain planting will be difficult. Producers were preparing for fall cattle work. Livestock were in good condition. Cattle prices were dropping, and producers continued rebuilding herds.

    Coastal Bend: The cotton harvest continued, though it was slowed in some areas by scattered showers throughout the week. In other areas, there were very few sorghum and cotton fields left unharvested — except those that had been planted late. Rice producers were nearly done harvesting. The prospect of receiving river water for irrigation in 2016 spurred field preparations in traditional rice fields for next year’s crop. Pastures were recovering nicely, and hay producers were anticipating another good hay cutting. Cattle remained in excellent condition.

    East: Some counties received spotty showers, enough to green up the grass, but all the region needed rain. Pond and creek levels continued to drop, which caused some livestock watering concerns. Most hay fields and pastures had little to no growth due to the dry conditions. Soil moisture continued to decline. Most counties rated subsoil and topsoil as short; a few very short. Burn bans remained in effect for some counties. More producers reported armyworm infestations on hay and forage. Producers were spraying insecticides. Fall vegetable preparation continued. Producers continued to sell market-ready calves and cull cows. Cattle remained in good condition, with some producers supplying supplemental feed. The fall calving season began in some areas. Horn fly populations on cattle increased. Feral hog activity also increased.

    North: Topsoil moisture was short to very short. Temperatures were in the mid 90s most of the week. Nighttime temperatures dropped into the low 70s, and that helped give some relief from the heat during the morning hours. Sporadic rain in some areas also gave relief from the heat. Pastures were turning brown. Producers were disking and preparing for winter planting. Some producers were still cutting hay. Row crops were struggling from lack of moisture. Pastures and hay meadows were also moisture stressed. Sugarcane aphids were found in Johnsongrass and forage sorghums, but not at economic thresholds to justify treatment. Armyworms began to show up in pastures after last week’s rain. Wild hogs continued to cause damage.

    Panhandle: Hot and dry conditions continued for most of the week, with near-average temperatures. Soil moisture was rated fair to adequate. Moisture was received in some areas early in the week, mostly in the northern and western counties, but the entire region needed a good, substantial rain. In Collingsworth County, the hot, dry conditions sped up cotton and sorghum maturity. Most farmers shut off irrigation on cotton and were gearing up for harvest. Peanuts were progressing well, though the crop was planted late and had not caught up at the same rate as the cotton crop. Peanut harvesting was estimated to begin in about a month. In Dallam and Hartley counties, the warmer weather was good for crops needing more heat units, particularly cotton and watermelons. Producers were harvesting corn silage, alfalfa hay, potatoes and green beans. Some wheat was being planted, but most growers were waiting for grasshopper pressure to abate. Grass seed production was good due to May rains, and pasture and rangeland recovery from drought was continuing. Deaf Smith County producers were going through yet another round of crop evaluations due to hail damage. Many cornfields have been hailed on two to three times. Some producers were thinking of chopping whatever was left in fields for silage. However, prices were very low due to the amount and availability of silage in the area. The Deaf Smith County sunflower crop received significant hail damage, and little was left standing. Sugarcane aphids and grasshoppers were still raising havoc with the county’s grain sorghum and corn production. Winter wheat planting started, with the concern that with grasshoppers and many other pests at high levels ready to feed on new plants, producers would have to be on high alert. The Randall County corn silage harvest was about 70 percent completed. Harvesting for grain was expected to start soon. Sorghum producers were fighting outbreaks of sugarcane aphids and were having difficulties controlling the pest. Cotton remained late in maturity, but the hot weather was helping.

    Rolling Plains: With little to no rain coming during the past several weeks, most of the region was unfavorably dry. Producers were becoming concerned for several reasons. The danger of wildfire continued to increase because pastures had an abundance of fuel in the form of dry grass. Dryland cotton needed rain, but irrigated cotton looked very good. Wheat producers were waiting for rain to come and grasshopper populations to decline before planting. Livestock were in fair to good condition, but some producers began providing supplemental feed. Cattle producers continued to restock their herds following the drought. Surface water continued to be in good shape for the end of summer. Producers were bailing any hay they could find, hopping the supply would suffice through the winter months. Grain sorghum was being harvested.

    South: Hot, mainly dry and humid conditions continued. Scattered showers, mostly light, were reported throughout the region, but with a few exceptions, brought only enough moisture to temporarily take the edge off the heat. A few areas did receive enough rain to help soil moisture somewhat. The wildfire risk remained high in many parts of the region. In the northern part of the region, cotton harvesting was ongoing, and peanuts under irrigation continued to develop. All corn and grain crops were harvested in Live Oak County. Ranchers steadily increased supplemental feeding to compensate for declining forage quality and availability. Cattle body condition scores remained fair. Soil moisture was short to very short in all the northern counties except for LaSalle, where it was 90 percent adequate. In the eastern part of the region, Jim Wells County cotton harvesting slowly progressed, with most fields defoliated and early yield reports of 600 to 1,000 pounds per acre. In Kleberg and Kenedy counties, harvesting of small grains and cotton was mostly completed. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to good condition. Soil moisture was short to very short in Duval, Jim Hogg, Kleberg and Kenedy counties, and adequate in Jim Wells County. In the western part of the region, most vegetable crops were harvested except for some watermelons and onions. Some forage sorghum and corn were yet to be harvested in Maverick County. In Zavala County, corn and sorghum harvesting was completed. Cotton ginning continued in the two area gins, and oat producers started planting late in the week in hopes for some rain soon to get the crop started. Also in Zavala County, the extremely dry and hot conditions forced pecan growers to apply water to finish out the crop. Soil moisture was short to very short throughout the western counties. In the southern parts of the region, cotton harvesting resumed in Hidalgo County as fields began to dry out. In Starr County, producers were preparing for fall planting. Rangeland and pastures were in good to fair condition. Soil moisture was generally adequate in the southern counties.

    South Plains: As cotton neared being harvest-ready, much of the crop could use some rain to finish it out. In some areas, such as Floyd County, dryland cotton might not finish at all without rain. The corn harvest was ongoing. In Hale County, cooler nighttime temperatures regulated cotton growth. In Cochran County, cotton, peanuts, peas, sorghum and sunflowers continued to mature. Producers with irrigation were watering due to lack of rain. Pastures and rangeland were in fair to good condition. Most Hockley County cotton producers shut off irrigation and were readying to harvest. Lubbock County dryland cotton fields were moisture stressed. June-planted cotton there was opening bolls. The harvesting of corn and sorghum was underway. Corn yields ranged from 120 bushels per acre in hail-damaged fields to 200 bushels per acre in non-damaged fields. Garza County remained hot and dry. Cotton needed rain to fill bolls. Rangeland and pastures were in good to excellent shape, with warm-season grasses curing. Due to the large amount of dry forage and weeds, there was concern of wildfires breaking out. Calf weaning weights were a little lower than normal. Cattle were mostly in good to excellent condition. Some Scurry County cotton needed a rain several weeks ago.

    Southeast: Soil moisture throughout the region varied widely, but was mostly short to very short, with short being the most common. Fort Bend, Chambers and San Jacinto counties rated soil moisture as 100 percent adequate. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied from fair to poor, with fair ratings being the most common. San Jacinto County reported 100 percent excellent conditions. Walker County received some scattered rain but was still very dry. Scattered showers in Brazos and Montgomery counties provided some relief in a few areas. Brazoria County received quite a bit of rain, most of which did not soak in but ran off. In Chambers County, there was still some late-planted rice that was not ready to be cut. Much more rice was ready, but harvesting was being hampered by daily showers. In Fort Bend County, rains promoted pasture regrowth. Livestock were in good condition, and corn and grain sorghum were harvested. Cotton growers were defoliating the crop, but the harvest was being delayed by rain. Galveston County continued to receive frequent heavy rains.

    Southwest: The region’s small-grain fields and pastures were in much need of rain. Soil moisture was totally depleted in most areas, with no grass growth, and surface water levels were quickly dropping. The grape harvest was underway, and the peach harvest was winding down. Cotton was generally in fair condition, but there was more root rot than last year. Livestock needed supplemental feeding. Deer were in good shape but needed supplemental feeding as well. Turkey and quail hatches were good.

    West Central: Hot, dry, windy days with warm nights continued. Wildfires were an extreme danger in all areas. Stock-tank levels were becoming a concern in some areas. Fall fieldwork was underway. Some producers were dry planting wheat for fall grazing. Others continued to prepare fields for planting, but were waiting for rain before proceeding. Cotton remained mostly in good condition, but was showing signs of heat and drought stress. Cotton growers planned to apply harvest aids soon. Producers continued baling hay. Rangeland and pastures further declined due to drought conditions. Livestock remained in fair to good condition.

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