Texas Crop Weather: Back on Track After Years of Drought, Flooding

    Producers around the state are finding conditions more favorable for planting early crops compared to last year, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service reports.

    Dr. Ronnie Schnell, AgriLife  Extension agronomist in College Station, said corn and sorghum producers are on or a little ahead of schedule with plantings as soil conditions appear to be favorable because of winter moisture and timely spring rains.

    Fields in the Brazos Valley are in much better condition than last year, when torrential rains delayed plantings for months in some cases.

    Schnell said some farmers started early to avoid possible delays. He said some corn is already emerging in the region.

    “There was good winter moisture and a dry out that gave them the ability to get into their fields to plant before these recent rains,” he said. “I don’t think everyone was finished but there was a lot of activity and I think a lot of the fields are planted.”

    Dr. Gaylon Morgan, AgriLife Extension agronomist in College Station, said cotton fields in the Rio Grande Valley were 80 percent planted and overall there have been few delays up to this point. Morgan said mild winter conditions spurred farmers to plant rather than risk rain delays.

    “Most producers in the (Rio Grande) Valley planted earlier than usual because they were gun-shy after what happened last year when it was wet and stayed wet,” he said. “They wanted to get it in.”

    Morgan said moisture levels were looking good around the state and that 2016 has been a return to normal so far — compared to prior years of drought and flood. He said soil in some areas would be full of moisture 2-4 feet deep, which would be beneficial to rooting plants between rains.

    The rains were helpful to many areas and crops, but the precipitation and subsequent humidity is causing problems for wheat fields around the state, said Dr. Clark Neely, AgriLife Extension specialist in College Station. Wheat rust has been reported around the state, and recent rains and overall humidity levels could provide ideal conditions for the disease.

    “There’s a lot of rust being reported and rain only helps facilitate the disease’s development,” he said. “The reports we’ve seen in January and February are indicative of a bad rust year.”

    Warmer- than-usual temperatures put wheat two weeks ahead of schedule and have producers concerned about possible freezes that could damage fields. There were 5.3 million acres of wheat compared to 6 million acres planted last year, a 12 percent decrease.

    Despite concerns, Neely said overall the wheat crop is in good shape. Most of the state’s production is concentrated in the Rolling Plains and High Plains areas, which benefitted from the recent rains, he said.

    “All these rains that might have hurt us helped them,” he said.

    AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

    CENTRAL: Counties in central Texas reported severe storms and 6-8 inches of rain over five days. All counties reported good soil moisture. Overall range and pasture conditions were reported as good while overall crop conditions were fair. Pastures were greening up and conditions were improving but supplemental feeding was still necessary for livestock. Cattle remained in good condition for most of the area. Small grains were looking good. While corn has been planted, some of those fields were drowned out by rains. The rain also stopped work in some fields for a few days. Fruit trees have bloomed. Tanks were full and rivers and creeks were running.

    ROLLING PLAINS: Heavy rains fell across parts of the Rolling Plains. Five inches to 7 inches of rainfall resulted in some dangerous flooding. However, there was no report of missing livestock and stocker cattle were doing well. Lakes and ponds were full. Higher-than-normal humidity contributed to more disease issues in wheat. Some producers treated wheat rust. Others were trying to hold out as long as they could or were trying to figure yield potential and the economic feasibility of rust application.

    COASTAL BEND: The reporting area received from 1.5-7 inches of rain, which provided a good boost to the soil moisture profile. But wet conditions were expected to slow agriculture activity.  Temperatures remained higher than normal. Sorghum and cotton planting were expected to resume after fields dried. Corn planting was almost complete. Some replanting may be necessary in flooded fields. Rice planting made a comeback due to water availability from the Colorado River. Rice acreage was predicted to be close to pre-drought levels. Some fertilizer was being spread on warm season pastures and hay fields. Cattle were in good condition and continued to transition from supplemental feed to spring pastures.

    EAST: Flood conditions existed after up to 20 inches of rain fell throughout the region. Many counties that reported dry conditions last week reported surplus moisture with creeks, ponds, and lakes overflowing. Pasture and range were mostly in fair condition. Most counties reported surplus subsoil and topsoil conditions. Cattle were being moved out of bottomland in Henderson County. Some producers had trouble getting into their pastures. Some gardeners reported losses of early planted crops. The Shelby County judge ordered a mandatory evacuation for residents living along the Sabine River and the Toledo Bend reservoir. Confirmed tornadoes were reported in Henderson County and caused major damage. Livestock were doing fair to good with supplemental feeding. Cows were calving and gaining weight. Livestock markets seemed to be more stable. Most classes of feeder heifers and steers ended steady. Slaughter cows were up and bulls were firm. Spring cattle work began. Bull turn-out was underway for spring calving herds. Feral hogs were causing problems. There were reports of hog hunter dogs contracting pseudorabies. Pollen from pine trees started to fall.

    SOUTH PLAINS: In Cochran County, soil continued to dry out due to lack of moisture. Pasture and rangeland needed rain as producers continued to prepare for spring planting. Winter wheat would benefit from rain but continued to mature. Floyd County producers received three-quarters of an inch of rain, which helped winter wheat and provided good moisture to start planting next month. Wheat looked very good. Light rainfall was received in portions of Garza County, with amounts ranging from a quarter inch to half an inch. Producers continued to prepare land for cotton planting in the coming months. Most ranges and pastures were in fair to good condition, as warm season grasses were beginning to come out and beginning to grow in low-lying areas. Cattle concentrated on those areas and followed new growth. Cattle were in mostly fair to good condition with little-to-no supplemental feeding at this time. Rainfall was needed in most areas to fill the topsoil profile as subsoil moisture in pastures remained good. Lubbock County received needed rainfall this week, but it was spotty. Amounts ranged from a few hundredths of an inch to more than 1 inch. Land preparation continued, including application of fertilizer and herbicides and listing rows. Spot checks of several wheat fields indicated growth nearing the jointing stage. Scurry County producers received trace amounts of rain but more rain was needed. There was no precipitation reported in Yoakum County. Irrigated fields of winter wheat and oats continued to look good. Calm winds allowed grape growers to spray.

    PANHANDLE: Temperatures were warm, dry and windy for most of the week.  Some moisture was received.  A good rain was still needed throughout the region. Collingsworth County received rain early in the week. Cooler temperatures and cloudy skies provided some good moisture. Wheat and pastureland was greening up due to heavy morning dew and high humidity. Spring round-up was beginning. Deaf Smith County producers continued field preparations for the coming planting season. Compost and fertilizer trucks were running as quickly as possible in preparation for planting season. The winter wheat crop was holding on and many producers started pivot irrigation on their wheat crops. Dryland crops were suffering from lack of moisture. The wheat crop was growing fast with much of the wheat breaking dormancy and needing moisture to continue its growth. Stocker cattle were still running on wheat pasture with more being added to graze the pastures out. Scattered showers were received across Wheeler County.  Some areas received up to half an inch but more was needed for wheat.  Pastures began to green up. Weeping lovegrass was growing and producers began to fertilize. Cattle were in good condition. Range and pastures was rated mostly fair to good.

    NORTH: Rainfall amounts varied from about 1.5-3.5 inches around North Texas. Topsoil moisture varied from adequate to surplus. Bottomlands were flooded. Milder-than-usual temperatures were reported. Rains put a halt to corn planting; it was estimated up to 15 percent of the total corn acres were planted before the rains began. Cattle producers pulled cattle off winter annual pastures again because soils became saturated. Wheat looked better after two weeks of sunshine and warmer weather before the rains came. Signs of stripe rust have been reported in several fields and could be a problem this spring in most areas. Producers were debating on when and what to spray if they plan to harvest. Some producers said they would be better off grazing out the wheat. Winter grasses and legumes on range and pastures had ample moisture and could really come on with a forecast of warm weather and sunshine between possible rain on Wednesday and Friday. Bermuda grass and other warm-season grasses were beginning to green up earlier than normal due to the mild winter. Most producers hoped to avoid a repeat of last year’s spring flooding that caused low yields and complete failures of wheat, oat, milo and corn crops. There was very little greenbug activity so far.

    FAR WEST: Culberson County received a trace of precipitation with very windy conditions finishing out the week.  Glasscock County received up to half an inch of rain. Leaf and stripe rust was building in area wheat crops.  Fields have been sprayed and more were set to be sprayed when weather permitted. Farmers continued to prepare fields for corn and sorghum planting. Pastures were starting to green and mesquite trees were close to breaking bud. Presidio County had cooler temperatures with nighttime temperatures below freezing. The week ended with very windy conditions and high fire danger. Bulls were out with cows and most calving was complete. Pastures were greening up. Portions of Ward County received up to a quarter inch of rainfall early in the week. Areas that received precipitation were showing response from annual weeds.  Calving continued along with supplemental feeding. Upton County received some much-needed moisture. Farmers continued to prepare fields for this year’s crops.  Livestock continued to kid and lamb out. Supplemental feeding of livestock and wildlife continued. Pecos County received a third of an inch of rain and mesquite trees were putting on leaves. Pasture and range conditions were poor. Winter wheat was fair. Subsoil and topsoil moisture was short.

    WEST CENTRAL: Days were very mild with cool nights. Widespread rainfall was reported throughout the week in almost all counties. The rains should help boost spring grasses, non-grasses and winter wheat crops as well as improve soil moisture for spring planting. Field preparations for spring planting were underway but could be delayed until fields dry out. Winter wheat was in mostly good condition. Some wheat rust was reported. Range and pasture conditions continued to improve with green-up and growth. Warm season grasses and non-grasses were beginning to break dormancy in many areas. Fruit trees were beginning to bloom. Texas winter grasses continued good growth and winter wheat was being grazed by livestock as supplemental feeding continued. Livestock remained in fair to good condition, and cattle prices continued to hold steady. Some area lakes and ponds caught a significant amount of runoff. Rains also reduced range fire conditions tremendously.

    SOUTHEAST: In Brazos County, the majority of corn had been planted. Significant rainfall across the county caused some flooding in low areas. In Grimes County, recent flooding replenished the soil moisture content but reduced the amount of days suitable to work in the field. Hardin County experienced historical flooding. In Montgomery County, rains were spread over the week, so flooding was minimal. Most areas in the county received 3 inches of rain with some areas receiving more than 7 inches. Brazoria County experienced three days of heavy rain but did not report measurements. More than 6 inches of rain fell in Chambers County. Some rice was being planted before the rain came. It could be a week before field work can resume. Fort Bend County received 3 inches of rain. Approximately 95 percent of corn, 85 percent of grain sorghum and 5 percent of cotton has been planted. Livestock were in good condition. Galveston County experienced very heavy rain for several days, which resulted in flooding and standing water in areas throughout the county. Soil-moisture levels throughout the region varied widely, mostly in the adequate to surplus range with surplus being the most common. Brazos, Galveston, Hardin, Montgomery and San Jacinto counties reported 100 percent moisture surplus. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely, with most rating from fair to very poor. Good ratings were most common. San Jacinto County reported 100 percent good pasture ratings. Hardin County reported 100 percent of pastures as very poor.

    SOUTHWEST: Areas in the southwest received 2-4 inches of rain, which was great for spring planting. Peaches were in bloom and seemed to have received enough cooler temperatures as well. There were reports of rapidly increased weed growth as spring approaches. Cool temperatures after the rain followed by warmer temperatures increased spring growth of grass and forage. Livestock were in fair condition as lambing and kidding continued.

    SOUTH: Rainfall was received throughout the region this past week, which improved soil moisture, range and pasture conditions and crop production. Temperatures were mild throughout the Frio County area.  Wheat crops continued to develop, but there was some fungicide spraying to address rust. Potato and corn crops also continued to develop and were in good condition. La Salle County received about an inch of rain. Range and pastures continued to improve throughout the northern portions of the region. Soil moisture conditions were 100 percent adequate in the Frio County area and 80 percent adequate in the La Salle County area. The Brooks County area received rain after two months of dry conditions.  An estimated 3 inches of rain fell in some areas and as much as 4.5 inches fell in other areas of the county. Farmers were watching forecasts and fertilized their fields before the rain. Soil moisture conditions were 100 percent adequate. Some much-needed rain fell in Jim Wells County. Most areas received up to 2 inches of rainfall from a strong storm system that moved northward along the coast. The moisture should ensure a good start to the crop-growing season in the Jim Wells County area. Soil moisture was 50 percent to 100 percent adequate. Crop producers can begin to plant crops in the weeks to come if all goes well. Kleberg and Kenedy counties averaged 5 inches over a 24-hour period.  More rainfall was expected. Range and pastures will benefit greatly from the rainfall received but increased weed and pest problems were expected. Sorghum planting continued. Soil moisture was 70 percent adequate in the Kleberg and Kenedy counties area. To the west, favorable conditions continued in Dimmit County, which received significant rainfall. But additional rain was needed for range and pasture improvement.  Around 4 inches of rain fell in Webb County and temperatures were cooler. Soil was 60 percent to 80 percent adequate in Dimmit County and 60 percent adequate in Webb County. A measureable amount of rain fell in Zapata County. Three inches of rain was reported in some areas. The soil was saturated in those areas. The rain was the first reported in more than two months. Some runoff occurred throughout the area. Soil was reportedly 50 percent to 60 percent adequate in Zapata County. Temperatures were hot and sticky before the storms and cool thereafter. Rain fell in Zavala County throughout the week and limited field activities to almost nothing. Producers reported weather conditions allowed them to do maintenance and repairs on equipment, since fields were too wet to do any other field tasks, including cultivation, planting and harvesting. A 100 percent surplus of moisture was reported in Zavala County. Livestock producers, with livestock on both native range and pastures or planted winter grazing pastures, were happy to receive rain. Overall, producers remained in a wait-and-see mode to assess the effects of timely rains on agriculture production. Widespread rain fell in the south and should benefit most agriculture production. Harvesting of sugarcane, citrus and vegetables was temporarily interrupted due to wet fields. Row-crop planting of grain sorghum and cotton was also slowed or halted throughout the area. Starr County received scattered showers. Between 2.5-5.5 inches were received throughout the county. Range pastures and recently planted row crop fields should benefit from the rainfall. Soil moisture conditions were 80 percent adequate in the Hidalgo County area and 90 percent adequate in the Starr County area.

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