Texas Crop, Weather for Jan. 14, 2014

Drought further recedes but winter wheat still challenged in some areas

Dryland winter wheat was still struggling with drought and adverse weather in parts of the Texas High Plains. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Dr. Calvin Trostle)

Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, rd-burns@tamu.edu

COLLEGE STATION – Drought conditions continued to recede in Texas, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor and reports from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

According to the monitor, a large chunk of the state, comprised mostly of East Texas counties, had normal or better soil-moisture levels. About another 28 percent of the state was merely abnormally dry, which means though soil moisture was low, the areas were either not yet in drought or were recovering from drought.

These numbers represent a large improvement from last January, when about 71 percent of the state was in one stage of drought or another, from moderate to extreme. However, many parts of the state still did not show improvement.

The East Texas, Southeast, Coastal Bend and parts of the South regions reported good soil-moisture conditions, which benefited winter wheat, oats and winter pastures. But for much of the rest of the state, dry, cold, windy weather continued to dry out soils and challenge winter forage production, according to agent reports.

“Winter wheat benefited from previous week’s rains,” reported AgriLife Extension in Martin County AgriLife Extension. “Sorghum harvesting is still going, with about 85 percent harvested. Producers are gearing fields up for upcoming cotton season. Weather has been really warm the last couple weeks especially for this time of year in West Texas, with a few nights getting below freezing but by midday jumping up to 60′s.”

In East Texas, moisture levels were good, but extremely cold temperatures set forage growth back, according to Aaron Low, AgriLife Extension agent for Cherokee County.

After a very dry December, the Coastal Bend region received some rain, which should generate new winter pasture growth, said Scott Willey, AgriLife Extension agent for Fayette County. However, many livestock ponds were still low and will continue to be so until a major rain event.

In the Panhandle, South Plains and Rolling Plains regions, dry conditions were still a threat to dryland winter wheat and rangeland forbs.

Rick Aukerman, AgriLife Extension agent for Deaf Smith County, reported: “No moisture in the area for a considerable amount of time is making the dryland wheat crop a distant memory — if we do not get help soon. The irrigated wheat is in fair to good shape with some stocker cattle out, but there are no appreciable amounts of cattle anywhere.”

While parts of the state received beneficial rains, the combination of drought and extremely cold temperatures may have done some damage to winter wheat throughout the Texas High Plains, according to Dr. Clark Neely, AgriLife Extension small grains specialist in College Station.

“Unfortunately, the High Plains received little of these beneficial rains, and wheat producers struggled to get their crop up and out of the ground this fall,” Neely said. “Drought-stressed wheat also had to endure frigid temperatures during the past month, which have some concerned about the possibility of winterkill on small wheat.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

Map of the 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Districts

Central: Sporadic winter weather made crop conditions fluctuate. Some oats and wheat were damaged by freezing weather in December. Stock-tank water levels were getting low. Pecan yields were very low, averaging 350 pounds per acre.

Coastal Bend: The region was misty, rainy and cold most of the week. Temperatures were at freezing or a degree below at times. Growers continued preparing fields for spring crops where conditions permitted. Recent rains were expected to generate new growth in winter pastures and cool-season row crops. However, many livestock ponds remained low and needed runoff from a major rain. Some areas got from 1 inch to 3 inches of rain. Hayfield aeration tillage continued. Slow rains associated with fronts have brought slow drizzling rain to western counties. This made an excess of moisture on the topsoil for a few days. For some areas, December was extremely dry, and soil moisture conditions greatly diminished.

East: The region experienced very cold temperatures. Heavy frosts slowed forage growth. Some counties reported freeze damage to winter pastures. Soil-moisture levels remained adequate. Ponds were full, and some pastures had standing water. Preparation of fields for vegetable planting was hampered due to the wet conditions. Panola County reported abundant moisture, allowing a recharge of the aquifer. Cattle were in good shape. Producers were feeding more hay than normal. The calving season continued. Feral hogs were active.

Far West: Mornings were cool and afternoons warm. About 85 percent of grain sorghum was harvested in some areas. The cotton and pecan harvests were completed. Producers were readying fields for the upcoming cotton season. With pasture grasses dormant, ranchers had to provide supplemental feeding and large amounts of minerals.

North: Topsoil moisture was adequate across the region, with surplus moisture in some counties. The week started out very cold with a strong arctic front that brought drizzle and rain, which deterred most farming activity. Fields in several counties remained wet and mostly inaccessible due to muddy conditions. Wheat was in fair to good condition. Grayson County reported problems with wheat yellowing due to fertility issues and wet soils. Livestock were generally in good condition with supplemental feeding. Camp, Kaufman and Morris counties reported damage to fields by feral hogs.

Panhandle: Temperatures were all over the place, below average early in the week, near average in mid-week and above normal by the weekend. Soil-moisture levels continued to be mostly short to very short. Hansford County reported 2 inches of snow Jan. 11. The cotton harvest was completed. Irrigated wheat was in fair to good shape. Rangeland and pastures were in very poor to poor condition, with most counties reporting very poor. Cattle were in fair condition with continued supplemental feeding.

Rolling Plains: Dry, windy conditions continued. The cotton harvest was nearly completed, and farmers were plowing fields and cutting stalks. Livestock producers were providing heavy supplemental feeding to cattle. Most early planted wheat had emerged but needed rain. Cattle already grazing wheat were doing well. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to good condition. The need for runoff water to replenish tanks and ponds was ongoing.