Farmers in the Southern Plains have a new battle on their hands. After fighting consecutive multiple years of devastating drought, rains have started to fall with some areas of the Texas Panhandle breaking records for the wettest May ever. The barrage of rainfall means farmers aren’t able to plant, and prevent plant discussions are starting to occur.
Wesley Spurlock farms in Sherman County, Tex. He, and other area farmers, are experiencing a year of firsts.
“This amount of consecutive days of rain, it’s been years since I’ve probably experienced it,” says Spurlock.
9″ of rain in the last 10 days
3.8″ just today pic.twitter.com/vp5qQH9DTv
— Brady Buxkemper🌵 (@BradyBuxkemper) June 2, 2023
Heavy Rains Could Come at the Cost of Texas Cotton Acres
The issue is the much-needed rain is falling just as farmers are trying to get into the fields to plant this year’s crop.
Just two months ago, farmers talked about the possibility of not planting a crop without any moisture to help get the crop established and out of the ground. Now, farmers are faced with the other extreme.
“From September to the end of April, we got less than a half an inch of moisture during that timeframe,” says Spurlock. “Since the 26th or 28th of April, we’re at 14 to 20 inches of rain.”
In his area of the northern Texas Panhandle, the drought monitor has gone from showing extreme drought conditions, to now abnormally dry, and not even in drought. And that sudden switch means most of his acres haven’t even been planted yet.
“We still have about 80% of our acres to plant,” says Spurlock. “We had about 2,500 to 3,000 acres of cottonwood aimed at planting, and the final planting date on cotton was May 31st.”
Forced to Weigh Prevent Plant Options
USDA’s crop progress report showed only half of the cotton in Texas had been planted as of Monday. With continuous rain still in the forecast, he and other farms are now forced to look at the possibility of prevent plant, something he’s never done.
“On our main farm, it’s never been an option,” says Spurlock. “We’ve never had a problem getting there. We can always plant, we always get to that point.”
He says their family farm has run the numbers, and prevent plant doesn’t pencil there. So, instead of taking that option, they’re looking at switching away from planting cotton to planting more corn and sorghum for silage this year.
Is El Niño to Blame?
But even getting those crops in the ground will face hurdles, as USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey says more rain is still on the way.
“The signal of a wetter southern great plains is consistent with El Niño, but this is not due to El Niño,” says Rippey.
According to Rippey, El Niño hasn’t officially formed yet, and even though the signs are screaming that it’s still on the way for a mid to late summer arrival, the recent heavy rains in the Plains isn’t due to El Nino.
“We haven’t seen that teleconnection, that connection between the warm ocean in the eastern Pacific and the atmosphere across North America yet,” he explains. “And that’s the hallmark of El Niño. We expect that to develop later this year.”
When El Niño does arrive, Rippey says it could mean additional wet weather for the southern tier of states, including the southern Plains.
As for Spurlock, he’s hoped and prayed for rain to finally come, and even though it’s causing flooding and keeping him out of the field, he’s not giving up yet.
“We’ve taken every planter that we had in the barn out, we’ve rebuilt them we’ve fixed all the precision on them, and so we’ve got about 260 feet of planter setting on tractors at the moment,” says Spurlock.
He says the plan is to continue to plant corn into June. He says their area has a longer window to plant corn than cotton. Late-planted cotton can hurt the quality of the crop. He says once they plant corn, then they’ll turn their focus on sorghum silage on what would have been cotton acres.