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Conditions mixed as farmers mull spring planting

 

COLLEGE STATION – Thanks to rains, more of Texas transitioned from exceptional to extreme drought, or from severe to moderate, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

But weekly on-the-ground reports from Texas AgriLife Extension Service agents still paint a mixed picture of the general agricultural situation.

In Deaf Smith County, the Panhandle, Rick Auckerman, AgriLife Extension agent, reported that producers are revisiting planting grain sorghum instead of corn. Cotton plans are mixed, but generally plantings are expected to be up this year, but a lot will depend upon whether the area gets spring rains before planting.

“Where’s the rain?” asked Kevin Brendle, AgriLife Extension agent Dickens County, east of Lubbock. “We had drier, windy and warmer conditions most of the week. Cotton land is being prepared and readied for spring planting.”

 “Livestock producers have been feeding hay and cutting herd numbers for about 15 months,” said Steven Sparkman, AgriLife Extension agent for Hardeman County, northwest of Wichita Falls. “Most hope the cost of hay is cheaper than replacing cattle sold during drought conditions. Some cattle are grazing wheat, with most livestock producers feeding hay.”

“Wow, 76 degrees on Jan. 19!” said David Winkler AgriLife Extension agent for Bosque County, southwest of Fort Worth. “The winter annual grasses and forbs are growing like gangbusters. The warm winter is a lifesaver for the average cattleman in Bosque County.”

“The county received nearly 3 inches of rain two weeks ago,” said Ralph Davis, AgriLife Extension agent for Kaufman County, east of Dallas. “Winter pastures look fairly good, but there is very little growth, with most ryegrass about 2 to 3 inches tall. Some producers see this as a good sign and are turning stock into graze.”

“Conditions are extremely dry, and the drought continues,” said Randy Reeves, AgriLife Extension agent for Harrison County, northeast of Longview. “The recent rainfall a few weeks ago has done little to relieve the drought. Supplemental feeding continues, and producers continue to search for sources of fairly good-quality hay; it remains hard to find.”

“Range and pasture conditions remain mostly in poor shape,” said Isaac Cavazos, AgriLife Extension agent for McMullen County, south of San Antonio. “Some winter annual forb production is taking place, which will benefit the wildlife, but it is not going to do much for cattle herds at the present time. Most ranchers are providing hay or utilizing prickly pear as an emergency feed source.”

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/ .

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

Central:The region did not see any substantial precipitation, but significant rain was forecast for the week of Jan. 23-27, which, if it arrives, is expected to keep small grains viable and enhance winter forage. Livestock producers continued feeding cattle though not to the extent that they were a few months ago. Peach trees needed more chilling hours to produce a crop.

Coastal Bend: The region did not receive any rain.Temperatures were above normal, and drought conditions continued. Soil-moisture levels were too low for planting and very little fertilizer was been applied for the same reason. Hay was scarce and prices were very high.

East: The region did not receive any measurable moisture, but winter pastures made good growth with previous rains. Farmers were doing very little fertilization due to its cost. Many producers were still providing supplemental feed to livestock and were purchasing hay from out of state when available. Feral hog damage continued to increase. Calving season was in progress.

Far West: The weather was windy, with mild temperatures with highs ranging from the mid 50s to upper 80s and lows in the mid 20s to 40s.The region did not receive any moisture in the last week. Winter weeds did benefit from a snow earlier in January, but rangeland conditions did not. Fall-planted onions and alfalfa remained dormant. Some producers were preparing land for planting cotton. Pecan growers were hedging and pruning. Livestock producers continued feeding cattle, horses and goats. Stocker cattle appeared to be doing well, but herds were smaller than normal in most areas due to the drought and last year’s wildfires. Many cows with calves were losing body condition due to nutritional needs of lactation and poor rangeland condition. Fears loomed of a locoweed crop due to the light snow.

North: Recent rain improved winter pastures. Producers were grazing cattle on the pastures where soil conditions were dry enough, which reduced the amount of hay that had to be fed. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Small grains continued to do well with recent rains and warmer weather. Spider mites were extremely widespread. Feral hog activity increased.

Panhandle: Soil-moisture levels varied from very short to adequate, with most counties reporting very short to short. Winter wheat was in very poor to good condition, with most counties reporting very poor to poor. Some farmers were preparing land for summer crops. Most rangeland and pastures continued to be in poor to very poor condition. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding of livestock on pasture.

Rolling Plains: The winter roller coaster continued, with daytime highs fluctuating day-to-day from 70 degrees to the low 40s. Rains benefited rangeland and pastures in the eastern part of the district. The rains meant winter grasses were emerging and in fair condition, stock-water tanks being up and livestock condition improving. It was a different story in the western part of the district, as winds continued to wreak havoc, blowing out some winter wheat fields and causing dangerous driving conditions. Winter grasses and forbs emerged in the western counties but needed moisture to grow. Livestock were in fair condition with continued supplemental feeding on a daily basis. Some livestock producers have been feeding hay and cutting herd numbers for more than a year. Producers that planted winter wheat and got a good stand turned cattle out to graze. The hope is the wheat will hold cattle through the winter until enough moisture is received to replenish pastures and water supplies. Cotton farmers began preparing fields for planting.

South: Most of the region continued to be dry with mild temperatures. Winter weed growth began to slow down. Winter forage had some growth, but was not enough to help feed cattle. Rangeland and pastures were in poor to very poor condition, and soil moisture was short to very short. Ranchers continued supplemental feeding of livestock, trying to keep their best cattle. Others were selling off many cattle as the price of supplemental feed continued to rise. In Atascosa and Frio counties, cattle were being grazed on wheat and oats, field activity increased and potato planting continued. In Zavala County, farmers were irrigating cabbage, spinach, onions wheat and oats, and harvesting of earlier planted spinach was very active. Harvesting of cabbage in the county was expected to resume early next week. In Cameron and Hidalgo counties, the pre-irrigation of sorghum, cotton and corn crops continued, and sugarcane, citrus and vegetables were being harvested. Fall onions were doing well in Starr County. In Willacy County, farmers delayed planting until fields dried out.

Southeast: In some areas, above-average temperatures allowed for good growth of winter annuals. Winter weeds were becoming a problem, but there was enough forage growth to reduce the demand on hay supplies.

Southwest: Dry, warm conditions continued, which dried out soils. The warmer weather has helped with some green-up of winter grasses, but more rain was needed. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding of livestock where hay was available. Small grains made good progress. Farmers were preparing fields for corn and milo plantings.

South Plains: There was no moisture received during the reporting period. Daytime temperatures were mild with winds gusting up to 60 mph during the weekend, which depleted any soil moisture received in the last two months. Farmers were doing some field preparation, including listing and stalk cutting. There was also some deep breaking (subsoil ploughing) where producers reported the soil to be very dry. Winter wheat was suffering from drought and high winds. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding of livestock as rangeland and pasture suffered from lack of moisture too. Cattle were in fair condition, but producers were worried about how the poor grazing conditions will affect breeding.

West Central: The region had mild weather with warm days and cool nights. Most counties remained dry. Small grains were in fair condition, but needed more rain to sustain growth. Farmers were preparing fields for spring planting, as weather permitted. Hessian fly infestations caused considerable damage to wheat fields in some areas. Where moisture was received earlier, rangeland and pastures continued to improve with winter grasses and forbs greening up. Livestock producers continued heavy supplemental feeding of livestock. Hay remained in very short supply.


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