According to various news agency reports, groundhogs across the nation, including Punxsutawney Phil, did not see their shadows today, which, by tradition, means spring will come early this year.
“Regardless of what the groundhogs indicate, we are experiencing a drying trend in many areas, and the soil-moisture profile is good, which is good news for Texas corn growers,” said Dr. Ronnie Schnell, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service state cropping systems specialist, College Station.
Until recently, Coastal Bend and Central Texas fields were too wet to work or incorporate preplant fertilizer, Schnell said. There also were concerns growers might see a repeat of last year’s overly wet spring. Last year, frequent rains kept many producers from planting corn on time, as well as other field operations.
Schnell said there’s reason to worry this spring could be a sequel to the spring of 2015: the strongest recorded El Niño to date.
The long-range forecasts, influenced by current El Niño conditions, suggest a wetter-than-normal pattern lasting into late spring, he said. These predictions have been proven true to date, but the recent dry weather could mean growers could still have the best of both worlds, timely planting and good stored soil moisture.
Corn planting usually begins near the average final freeze date or when soil temperatures are greater than 50 degrees. Planting usually begins along the upper Gulf Coast the third week in February. In Central Texas, it generally starts a little later, the last week of February to the first of March, Schnell said.
In the other major corn growing areas of the state – the Panhandle, South Plains and North regions – corn planting may begin as late as June, he said.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Texas producers harvested nearly 2 million acres of corn for grain in 2014. In 2015, harvested acres were down somewhat to 1.95 million acres.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Central: Soil moisture, rangeland and pastures were in good condition across the region. Field conditions continued to improve with drier weather. Farmers were preparing fields for spring planting of corn and other crops. Wheat improved after topdress fertilizer was applied. Cattle remained in good condition with supplemental feeding being done. Pecan producers were almost finished harvesting.
Coastal Bend: Conditions were cool and seasonal with some rain and light frost. Some farmers were applying preplant fertilizers. However, some fields continued to be too wet to do much fieldwork. Cattle remained in good condition, and ranchers were still providing supplemental feed. There remained some standing forage in most pastures, and winter forages were growing.
East: Pasture and field conditions improved with the warm, windy days. High temperatures ranged from the 40s to 70s. Most counties reported subsoil and topsoil as adequate. Pastures and rangeland were in fair to poor condition. Many counties still had pastures too wet to enter. Bottomland in Anderson County was too wet to work. Winter pastures were not doing well. Producers were fertilizing ryegrass and small grains where they could get into fields. Upshur County producers were applying pre-emergence herbicides. Milder temperatures allowed cool-season forages to grow. Livestock were in fair to good condition and receiving supplemental feed. Cattle in Trinity County were eating more hay and supplements than normal and seemed to be wintering harder than usual. Trinity County producers still had to buy hay from out of county. Spring calving continued, along with selling of market-ready calves and cull cows. Gopher and mole control continued. Feral hog activity continued to increase due to river and creek bottoms being flooded.
Far West: The district had erratic temperatures through the week, with highs ranging from the mid-70s to low-30s and nighttime lows in the 50s to low 20s. Pecos County received 8 to 10 inches of snow on Jan. 25, and Presidio County received 1 to 2 inches. Other counties had only traces of snow and sleet. Most producers were providing livestock with supplemental feed. Early calving herds began to calve. In Glasscock County, fields were being prepared for planting cotton and sorghum. Rangeland and pastures were in poor condition. Topsoil and subsoil moisture were adequate to short.
North: Topsoil moisture varied from adequate to surplus. Fields were still soggy in many areas. Winter wheat was struggling with too-wet soils. Little to no growth occurred over the past couple of months, and the tops of wheat were discolored. Winter pastures that were planted early were being used for grazing. Later-planted winter pastures had not had enough growth to be grazed. Some cotton was harvested, but there was still quite a bit left in fields. Cattle were in good condition. Feral hogs increased activities.
Panhandle: The region dried out somewhat thanks to mild, dry, windy weather, but more wet weather was forecast. Cotton harvesting was wrapping up in most areas. Producers began applying fertilizer, compost and manure to fields that had dried down. Others were still waiting to get into the fields. Pastures were in good shape, although windy weather was drying dead grass and priming it for wildfires. Cattle on wheat pastures were in good condition across the region. Livestock producers were supplementing cattle on rangeland. Spring calving was about to start.
Rolling Plains: Conditions remained favorable for cotton harvesting, and producers were finishing up. The cotton crop was better than expected, but with low prices, producers were debating on planting cotton again this year. Winter moisture, pastures and rangeland were in good to excellent condition and provided cattle with plenty of winter forage. Ranchers were able to cut back on supplemental feeding. Recent high winds and dry, warm conditions, along with an abundance of fuel in pastures, created an environment very susceptible to wildfire. Depending upon the area, wheat varied from good to poor condition.
South: The region’s weather continued to be warm during the day with cool nights and no rain. In the northern part of the region, winter crops were doing well except for some disease pressure. Potato and wheat planting decreased due to a recent frost. Winter annual grazing continued in some fields, but most annuals remained too short, and livestock producers had to provide supplemental feed. Body condition scores remained fair as most cows continued calving. Soil moisture remained adequate in the northern counties. In the eastern part of the region, dry conditions continued, and an early frost was expected to set back forage growth on pastures until warmer weather. Spring wheat emerged and looked good. However, most farmers reduced their wheat acreage this year in anticipation of a wet spring during harvest. Soil moisture was adequate in Brooks, Jim Wells, Kleberg and Kenedy counties, and short in Duval County. In the western part of the region, temperatures were well above normal. Crop farmers were preparing fields for spring planting, and coastal Bermuda grass fields remained dormant. In Zapata County, a grass fire burned more than 4,000 acres but was contained within 24 hours. In Zavala County, dry conditions prompted producers to irrigate cabbage, spinach, carrots and onions. Cabbage harvesting was light but expected to become active as more fields reached maturity. Harvesting of fresh market and processing spinach harvesting was active. Soil moisture was adequate in Dimmit, Webb and Zapata counties, and short to very short in Maverick and Zavala counties. In the southern part of the region, conditions were favorable for fieldwork; 90 percent of cropland was ready for planting. Harvesting of fall corn continued in selected areas, and yields were good. Onions were progressing well and maturing for early harvesting, and cabbage harvesting ended. Soil moisture was adequate in the southern counties.
South Plains: Cochran County producers were preparing fields for spring planting. Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels remained adequate. Pasture and rangeland were in good condition, and winter wheat was in fair to good condition. Warmer temperatures in Floyd County helped dry out fields and benefited wheat. Garza County had warm weather with highs near the weekend of 80 degrees and lows in the mid-30s. No rain was received, but deep soil moisture was good to excellent, and topsoil moisture was rated as good as well. Producers were able to harvest the few remain cotton harvesting was completed thanks to the drier weather. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in good condition, with producers having to supply supplemental feeding in only a few areas. Hockley County producers were deep plowing, cutting stalks, listing, applying fertilizer and incorporating pre-plant herbicides. Lubbock County had mild weather too, with a high of 80 degrees on Jan. 30. Total precipitation in January was 0.3 inches, and 2.1 inches of snow. Wheat continued to recover from the extreme cold and snow pack brought by the Christmas blizzard. Field operations included stalk shredding and bed shaping. In Scurry County wheat was growing well with warm temperatures.
Southeast: Soil moisture throughout the region varied widely, but was mostly adequate to surplus, with adequate being the most common rating. Lee, Brazos and Fort Bend counties reported 100 percent adequate levels. Walker and Hardin counties had 100 percent surplus soil moisture. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, but were mostly from fair to poor, with good ratings being the most common. Brazos County had unseasonably warm temperatures that created favorable forage growing conditions. In Grimes County, the unusually warm winter weather meant farmers could do more fieldwork. In Montgomery County, the above-average temperatures promoted the growth of winter annuals. Legumes and winter ryegrass showed good growth as well. Brazoria County received heavy rains that made it difficult to work in fields. In Chambers County, the ground remained too wet to work from earlier rains. In Fort Bend County, livestock were in good condition. Row-crop producers were doing fieldwork.
Southwest: The weather was unseasonably warm. Cool-season forbs were producing grazing for sheep and goats. Farmers were cultivating fields in preparation for spring planting. Livestock and wildlife still needed some supplemental feeding but were generally in fair condition. Spring lambing and kidding times were near. Rangeland and pastures still had good quantity forage in most areas.
West Central: The region had warmer and drier conditions. Days were mild with cold nights, which was great weather for field activities. Farmers were preparing for planting spring crops. Cotton harvesting wound down and neared completion. Cotton gins continued to run, but were expected to complete ginning in a few weeks. Winter wheat was in good to excellent condition. Grazing on wheat remained very light due to most of the crop being planted late. Early planted wheat was ready to graze on a limited basis. Rangeland and pastures were in good condition. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. Yearling cattle were doing well. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued to increase.