Prayed-for moisture across the Southwest hampers farmers’ ability to take advantage

It seems the height of irony that the soil moisture Southwest farmers have needed, prayed for, over the past four years comes at a time and in quantities that will prevent many from capitalizing on the full moisture profiles they need to make a crop.

As the month of May came to a damp close, cotton, peanut and grain farmers were trying to get seed in the ground ahead of insurance planting deadlines—May 31 for many, into June for others. Soggy fields had already hampered early growth of many crops in South Texas, mostly cotton and grain planted in early March between rain events. Many producers were unable to get their intended acreage in the ground and either switched to alternate crops, if they could plant those, or filed for prevented planting with insurance providers.

Cool, wet conditions hampered growth of crops that emerged in South and Central Texas. Weed pressure is heavy because farmers can’t make timely herbicide applications. Disease infection likely will be a contentious issue as well.

Wheat farmers welcomed the rain that helped the crops thrive through winter and early spring, but also upped production cost as producers applied fungicides to control leaf rust, stripe rust and other pathogens that do well in moist conditions.

A few small grain producers saw hail, high winds and torrential rains knock down grain, leaving fields that will, at best, pose difficulty at harvest, or, at worst, be abandoned. Low spots in many fields also show severe damage, stunted plants offering significantly lower yield potential. Grain-fill and test weight also could be lower following weeks of wet weather.

Farmers I’ve talked to in recent weeks are loathe to complain about rainfall, vividly recalling the past four years during which most received less moisture during that entire span than they’ve seen in the last two months. They see reservoirs such as Lake Lugert near Altus, Okla., down to 9 percent capacity just a month ago, now near 75 percent. The Southwest corner of Oklahoma, one of the driest sections of the country for most of the last four years, received, in places, as much as 16 inches in the first three weeks of May.

Drought monitor maps that have shown huge sections of the Southwest spotted with the dark lesions of extreme or exceptional drought for several years now show lighter hues or pure white as drought recedes.

Flooding has been deadly in the region; tornadoes have taken lives as well. Property damage is massive.

El Niño, the phenomenon apparently behind the rainy conditions and the weather pattern farmers have hoped and prayed for, is grown. No child’s play, this spate of stormy weather.

Texas AgriLife Extension cotton specialist Mark Kelley, Lubbock, put the situation in perspective recently as he discussed the struggle farmers in the Texas High Plains are working through to plant cotton. “It’s going to be another interesting summer in the High Plains,” he said.

It will be that, but I suspect farmers would prefer a little less interest and bit more stability.

Gaylon Morgan, Texas AgriLife Extension state cotton specialist, also noted: “It’s hard to manage extremes.”

It was extreme; it was quick; it was and is wet.

The good news: moisture is going into the bank, building reserves for future crops. The bad news: farmers are having a hard time getting to a point where they can make withdrawals.

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