Texas Field Reports: Crop, Cattle Conditions Declining

    A dried playa lake near Amarillo offers the only green grazing for a herd of cattle. Photo: Kay Ledbetter, Texas Agrilife Extension

    Emerging drought conditions could be problematic for Texas farmers and ranchers around much of the state as forecasts call for a hot, dry summer.  

    Dr. Curtis Adams, Texas A&M AgriLife Research crop physiologist, Vernon, said his region experienced extreme drought over the winter but spring rains have helped conditions, depending on location. Adams said rains were enough to allow growers to plant, but more rain is needed because seedling mortality is high in these conditions, as moist soils often quickly dry following planting.

    “We went more than 100 days without rain this winter,” he said. “The recent rains helped turn things around, but they didn’t make up for the extreme water deficit.”

    Lack of moisture or rain will also have a negative effect on young plants establishing roots, Adams said. Plants without root systems to draw moisture from subsoil levels will be more susceptible to continued dry conditions.

    Established dryland crops face tougher conditions as temperatures continue to rise.

    Adams said temperatures have been aboveaverage recently, which is taking a toll on crops and pastures as evapotranspiration rates increase faster than normal. Evapotranspiration is a measure of water loss to the atmosphere by evaporation from the soil and by transpiration from plants.

    Conditions have been hot, dry and windy, Adams said, and evapotranspiration rates have been as high as half an inch of water loss per day, very early in the growing season.

    “So, if you’ve received an inch of rain, when conditions are like they are, half of that could be lost in a day, depending on land management,” he said.

    Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist, College Station, said moisture losses compound warmer conditions.

    “The drier the ground is, the hotter it gets,” he said. “A lot of the state doesn’t have excess soil moisture.”

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    The relieving rain in some parts of the Panhandle brought a few spots to above-average rainfall for the calendar year, Nielsen-Gammon said. But most of the region, especially around Amarillo, has received less than 25 percent of normal rain amounts.

    Most of the High Plains and South Texas, from Del Rio to Victoria, are becoming drier, he said, and there is an emerging drought within the Coastal Bend. Northeast Texas, from Dallas to Arkansas, has received less than a quarter of their normal rain amounts over the past month.

    Nielsen-Gammon said last month was the second warmest May on record in Texas. The shift from cooler than normal temperatures in April to above-normal temperatures in May was the biggest temperature change from April to May on record.

    The outlook for relief doesn’t look promising for most of the state this month, Nielsen-Gammon said.

    “It looks relatively dry with some chances of rain, but below normal for most of the state and temperatures that are pretty solidly in the above-normal range,” he said.

    Nielsen-Gammon said June is a historically wet month, but if rain does not materialize the

    state could be facing 2011-like drought conditions.

    “Check with me in a month,” he said. “It’s hard to improve drought conditions in July and early August, so this month could be critical.”

    AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

    CENTRAL: Rain was needed. Temperatures were very high. Soil conditions remained very dry. Corn leaves were cupping and twisting, and grain sorghum plants were starting to look wilted. Bermuda grass was almost ready for a second cutting, but growth was limited since the first cutting. Irrigated cotton was looking good.

    Grasshoppers may be an issue this summer. Sheep prices were down and cattle prices remained constant. Stock tank levels were at half or lower. Most counties reported good soil moisture. Overall crop, rangeland and pasture conditions were good in nearly all counties.

    ROLLING PLAINS: Conditions were dry and windy, and topsoil was drying quickly after recent rainfall. Irrigated cotton was being planted. Some dryland cotton was put on hold as producers wait for rain. Wheat harvest was in full swing with yields ranging from 10-60 bushels per acre.

    Hail-damaged wheat was not harvested. A small percentage of wheat will be used for seed next year. Pastures still looked fair to good, but high temperatures were taking a toll. Some producers continued to supplement livestock with cake and hay. Sesame was being planted. The first cutting of Bermuda grass hay was poor to fair.

    COASTAL BEND: Hot, dry conditions continued. All crops needed moisture. Farmers were shifting irrigation to cotton where water was available. The row crop situation was not good, as corn and cotton were suffering. There was very little indication of any fungal diseases in corn due to hot, dry weather.

    There was a noticeable increase of spider mites and fleahoppers in cotton. Some hay was being harvested with marginal yields. Rangeland and pasture conditions continued to decline. Livestock runs at the local auctions were starting to increase due to lack of forage.

    EAST: Dry conditions persisted despite a spattering of rain throughout the district. Drought conditions caused grass and woodland fires in Cherokee County and very low water levels in Gregg County. Spotty showers helped topsoil moisture in northern parts of Harrison County, while southern parts of the county were dry with grass crackling underfoot.

    Houston County pastures started to show stress from lack of moisture, which caused concern among hay producers. Cherokee County hay production reports showed averages were 30 percent less than last year’s first cutting.

    Producers in Marion, Panola, Smith and Sabine counties baled hay, but reports indicated pastures were not growing fast with the heat and lack of moisture. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair in all counties except Anderson, which reported poor conditions.

    Anderson County reported 100 percent of the wheat was harvested with 55-60 bushels per acre with fair to good quality. Sorghum and soybeans were 100 percent planted. Anderson County reported a heavy crop of pecans with little damage from pecan nut casebearer, and scab disease presence was light.

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    Producers in Marion and Anderson counties harvested blackberries, potatoes, squash, tomatoes and cucumbers for local farmers markets. Windy conditions paired with low humidity reduced topsoil moisture and caused very short soil conditions in Gregg, Tyler and Smith counties. Subsoil conditions in Gregg and Smith counties were short and Tyler and Shelby counties reported very short conditions.

    The unusually high temperatures and no rain in Henderson County took its toll on livestock, with all other counties reporting fair to moderate livestock body conditions. Smith County reported producers were still using supplementation for livestock. Shelby County reported good numbers at the sale barn with the prices still dipping slightly.

    Wild pigs were rampant in Anderson, Gregg, Henderson and Wood counties. Henderson County reported fly and mosquito numbers were high, and grasshoppers started to become prevalent.

    SOUTH PLAINS: Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels were very low, and parts of the district were in extreme drought conditions. Some much-needed rain was received along with damaging high winds in some areas. Temperatures were over 100 degrees with no moisture.

    The dryland cotton crop was unlikely to emerge without rain. Farmers were scrambling to get cotton planted before the June 5 insurance deadline. Recent hail storms and wireworms took out early stands of emerged cotton. Area pastures, rangeland and winter wheat needed rain.

    Corn and oats continued to be in fair to good condition. Cattle were in good condition.

    PANHANDLE: Temperatures were above average, and conditions were hot, dry and windy. Some areas reached record-breaking temperatures late in the reporting period. Soil moisture was short to very short. Corn and cotton planting was winding down. Sorghum planting was underway. Sunflower planting was still a couple of weeks away. Wheat silage harvest was underway in some areas and complete in others.

    Irrigation was very active. Pastures improved from recent rains in some counties. Some burn bans were removed. Many cow/calf producers stopped supplemental feeding. No insect problems were found, but thrips were expected to be on the young cotton crop shortly. Randall County reported only 0.3 of an inch of rain had been received in 2018.

    Dryland cotton planting got underway. The cutoff date for planting cotton for Randall County was June 5. Producers said cotton will not emerge without rain. Irrigated acres were trying to hang on with corn and cotton fields being irrigated continuously to keep up with water demands.

    Rangeland was greening in some areas. Other counties reported pastures were burnt up, hay was scarce and prices were high. Many cattle were being sold fast.

    NORTH: Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels ranged from adequate to short, with some counties reporting very short. No rain was reported. Conditions were hot and windy for most of the district. Daytime temperatures reached the mid- to high-90s with very windy conditions, which dried any reserve soil moisture.

    Wheat and oat harvests started with farmers reporting wheat yielding 50-80 bushels per acre and oats averaging 40-50 bushels per acre. Corn, milo and soybeans were beginning to stress due to higher-than-average temperatures and hot winds. Livestock were in great condition.

    Stocker cattle wiped out winter pastures, and remaining stockers will go to market soon. Haygrazer and Sudan patches looked good but were beginning to stress with limited cattle grazing it. Pecan and fruit trees were making nutlets and fruit, but some disease and insect pressure was reported.

    FAR WEST: Temperatures ranged with highs well above 100 degrees and lows in the 70s. Parts of the district received approximately 0.15-1.5 inches of rain. Severe drought conditions continued through a majority of the district. Fires and wind were a concern.

    Tremendous progress was made with planting. Rain was desperately needed to make a crop, with even irrigated crops needing rain to help with emergence. Pima and Upland cotton and alfalfa looked great in far west parts of the district. All crops looked really good due to an abundance of flood irrigation water.

    Rangelands around El Paso County were considered desert land. Some flood irrigated pastures looked good. Pecan trees were showing clusters and spraying was still in process. Peach trees were showing fruit. A few producers were planting Sudan grass on small acreage. Shipping of lamb and kids started.

    WEST CENTRAL: Conditions were extremely hot with pastures continuing to decline each day. Rain was badly needed. Coastal fields were stressed due to dry conditions. Soil moisture was all but gone, and forages were showing signs of heat stress and beginning to shut down. Wheat harvest was active with reports of 30-50 bushels per acre in some counties. Cotton was being planted.

    Stock tank levels continued to decline with some tanks drying to unusable levels and others quickly approaching. Producers were supplemental feeding livestock. Cattle markets were active with more than 1,000 head sold in some counties. Prices moved higher with strong demand after the futures market reversed a downward trend and moved higher as the reporting period progressed.

    Stocker steers sold steady to $2 higher per hundredweight, and heifers were a full $2 higher per hundredweight. Feeder steers were $2-$5 higher per hundredweight with one group of 728-pound steers selling at $1,062.88, or $146 per hundredweight, and feeder heifers were steady.

    Packer bulls were $3 higher, topping at $87.50 per hundredweight, and cows were $2-$4 higher, with the top cow selling at $67 per hundredweight. Packer and bred cows were steady.

    SOUTHEAST: Rice was progressing well. Temperatures were above average. Some parts of the district were dry, but rain helped areas that did not get enough rain during the previous reporting period. Pastures started to grow a little following rain. Livestock were in fair to good condition. All crops and pastures could use more rain.

    Corn fields in dry parts of the district were expected to yield very little. Cotton and sorghum was holding on. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied from excellent to very poor with fair ratings being most common. Soil moisture levels were adequate to surplus with adequate being most common.

    SOUTHWEST: Growing conditions declined due to a lack of moisture. Extremely hot conditions slowed forage growth. Streams and rivers were trickling. Hay producers cut their first bundles, but conditions may hinder a second cutting. Some counties reported good wheat yields, while others reported wheat and oats were not being harvested for grain due to drought, and were being used for grazing.

    White-tailed deer fawning season was underway and numbers appear good. Cow/calf producers were beginning to sell fall calves early due to drought conditions. Monitoring water availability for livestock and wildlife was necessary.

    SOUTH: Hot, dry weather conditions continued with short to very short moisture levels in northern, southern and western parts of the district and short moisture levels in eastern parts. Temperatures were over 100 degrees during the day. Hay was produced and selling quickly. Chipper potatoes and sweet corn were harvested.

    Peanut planting continued. Cotton and corn were irrigated. Pasture and rangeland conditions continued to decline due to the high temperatures and no rainfall. Pastures and rangeland in parts of the district that received rains during prior reporting periods improved. Supplemental feeding of livestock and wildlife continued to increase. Body condition scores on cattle remained fair.

    Irrigated crops like Coastal Bermuda grass and vegetables were doing well. In Zavala County, wheat harvest was complete and producers reported average yields. Sorghum made good progress. Cotton responded well to irrigation applications. Onion harvest was active and should be complete soon. Livestock continued to do well on mostly fair grazing conditions on native rangeland and pastures across.

    Stock tank levels were falling, and some producers started to haul water while others began to cull herds. Row-crop conditions declined significantly in some parts, and yield potential was expected to be reduced.

    Several grain sorghum fields were deemed total losses by crop adjusters, and some were being cut for cattle feed. Hay producers were cutting pastures for their livestock. Sunflower harvest was expected to begin soon. Citrus harvest was complete, and watermelon and onion harvests continued.

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