From the Lower Rio Grande Valley to the far stretches of Southeast Texas as far up the coast as just beyond the Houston Metro area, farm activity is ablaze with corn and grain sorghum harvest in full swing with cotton not far behind, at least in Deep South Texas.
One of the real pleasures of reporting farm and ranch news across the Southwest is the chance to road trip across as much of the region as time will allow, taking in the varied forms of farming activity, especially late in the growing season when most crops are mature and either ready for or at least nearing harvest.
Starting in South Texas this week I traveled north up the coast as far as Chambers County, taking to the back roads to hit as many rural farming communities as possible to see for myself how the crop year is progressing.
If, like me, you grew up around agriculture, seeing farm after farm full of corn and cotton and grain sorghum and a buzz of activity in the fields is a real joy. Without getting too mushy, it is fair to say it warms the heart to reconnect with the grassroots of the oldest of all professions—working the land and producing the food that keeps us all happy and healthy. It's a sight that renews the human spirit.
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My timing for such a trip, whether by accident or design, could not have been better.
In the far south reaches of the state little grain sorghum is left in the fields. Two straight weeks of typically hot summer weather has brought harvest activities to a close for most grains, including corn. It was hard to spot a field of corn or sorghum that was not stripped by combine or well into the process.
Texas AgriLife IPM Specialist Danielle Sekula-Ortiz reports that the pressures of the pesky sugarcane aphid (SCA) remained a concern right up to harvest of grain sorghum, but the sticky honeydew that was a concern because it can gum up a combine failed to slow down the harvest process since early treatments for the aphids had proven successful.
I was particularly surprised to discover that cotton was as far along in the Valley as it is, not that far from harvest. Around the Valley cotton was about 50 percent to 70 percent open on average, with later planted cotton at about 10 percent open bolls. Sekula-Ortiz reports most dryland cotton in the Valley is maturing fast and some fields have already received defoliants. Defoliation is picking up quickly in the Mid-Valley area with application of thidiazuron, diuron and ethephon.
Farther up the coast in the southern and western reaches of the Coastal Bend, 70 percent to 80 percent of all grain sorghum has been harvested with really good yields. In the eastern areas of Nueces County and into Aransas and San Patricio counties, harvest is underway in at least half the fields and work is progressing quickly. Good yields are being reported in most areas.
Varied cotton conditions
Cotton, including a large amount of Okra-Leaf cotton planted this year, is progressing nicely but mostly cotton is still in the flowering stage. One day of rain last week helped some areas but more is needed as many fields are beginning to show signs of heat stress and a lack of available soil moisture.
A little farther up the coast cotton is looking better. While it is not as far along because of late planting, rain has been more abundant in Victoria County and the farther you drive up the coastline the better the condition of all crops because of good rains in the spring and summer season. In Refugio, Victoria, Calhoun, Jackson, Dewitt and Lavaca counties crops looks particularly healthy and harvest was underway in many corn and grain sorghum fields.
The same could be said for corn, cotton and grain sorghum in Matagorda, Wharton, Lavaca and Brazoria counties. Even rice fields are looking healthy considering the lack of available irrigation water from the Colorado River. The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), and by emergency action of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), cut off irrigation supplies to rice farmers for the third straight year in a row as a result of the ongoing drought.
Texas rice famer Ronald Gertson says by pumping groundwater and largely because of beneficial rains that fell "at just the right times" so far this year, rice farmers should be able to harvest a reduced-size crop.
"The crop itself is looking good and harvest should begin in earnest about August 1, two weeks later than normal. Early season cold weather has delayed planting and maturity," Gertson said.
Timely rainfall helps crop conditions
Traveling north up the coast from rice country, crops have benefited in Fort Bend, Galveston, and Chambers counties from beneficial and timely rains, though harvest will be delayed because of late planting because of rain and cooler temperatures that lingered in early spring.
From Refugio County all the way to Chamber County hay cutting has either wrapped up or is in progress, and like grain sorghum, yield and quality are reported good to exceptionally good so far.
While there is still time for at least one or two more hay cuttings this year, many grain producers from the Coastal Bend to the Lower Rio Grande Valley are considering another planting of grain sorghum, depending on developing weather conditions.
Perhaps most rewarding of this road trip was to discover so many farmers up and down the 400 miles of the Texas coastline so active in their fields. Not only does it bring back fond childhood memories, it also is a welcome sign after so many challenging seasons of dry conditions brought about by the drought. While things could be better in the farming world, they could also be far worse.