Sometimes storm clouds come with silver linings; sometimes they bring high winds, damaging hail and blowing sand.
Recent fronts that moved through the Texas High Plains offered a bit of both. Folks in areas that picked up much-needed rain could trade a bit of blowing sand, maybe even a few hailstones and high winds, for the precipitation that will go a little way toward restoring depleted soil moisture. In some cases, farmers now have moisture to complete late-spring seeding; in others, recent rainfall will provide moisture to germinate seed already in the ground. And some farmers with may be able to turn off systems for a day or two and save water and fuel costs.
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But other areas received the wind and blowing sand, along with other damaging conditions, and received little to no rain from the events.
Some areas received significant hail and wind damage, says Mary Jane Buerkle, Director of Communications and Public Affairs Plains Cotton Growers, Inc.
“It really depends on where you are. Lloyd Arthur from Ralls had some significant damage as did some growers up in the Spade area east of Littlefield. We also heard of some significant damage in the Friona area, and I ran into someone from Cotton Center yesterday who said about 75 percent of their crop was wiped out.”
Buerkle says some of the damaged cotton may “bounce back.”
“The storms that have blown through Gaines County have brought a lot of blowing sand and very little measurable rainfall,” says Texas AgriLife Extension integrated pest management agent Manda Anderson. “Due to a lack of rainfall, we will likely see no dryland production in 2013,” she says.
Even irrigated cropland did not escape the storms’ wrath. “The relentless winds, blowing sand, and low pumping capacities have added to the difficulty of getting a stand established during a drought.” Once a crop is up, farmers have to “keep the stand up and growing.” Anderson adds that getting a center pivot unit around a field in time to irrigate adequately, “has been a chore for most producers.”
Cover crops have paid off. “Fields without a cover crop have the most wind damage; fields with a cover crop seem to be holding up a little better.”
Monti Vandiver, Northwest Plains IPM agent, says June 5 rainfall brought “some much needed precipitation,” to an area where “exceptionally dry conditions have dominated local weather.”
Harsh conditions prevail
“Harsh environmental conditions continue to plague the NWP,” he says. “Very high winds associated with recent storm fronts have added ‘insult to injury,’ damaging crops, sprinkler irrigation systems, and power poles. Some storms also contained damaging hail.”
Precipitation records tell the tale. Vandiver says recent precipitation confirmed by local weather stations ranged from half-an-inch to one-and-a-half inches. “The NWP is right at 50 percent of the long-term average precipitation year-to-date. The May 1 to-date heat unit accumulations are slightly ahead of the long-term average.”
Texas AgriLife Extension agronomist Calvin Trostle, who works out of the Research and Extension Center in Lubbock, says much of the High Plains received some rain before midnight, June 5. Accumulation was variable, he says, with Abernathy recording 1.1 inches; the northwest corner of Lubbock County received 1.6 inches, while other areas of the county received closer to 1.2. Folks in the Morton area had only 0.44. “But that comes on top of another half-inch from last Friday, so that will help,” Trostle says. Gaines County, he adds, also received little moisture. “Seminole received only about 0.13 inch so far in June and Seagraves had about one-third of an inch.”
The rain was welcome. “The wind was nasty,” he adds. “We had reports of some gusts over 80 miles per hour, so we have questions about damage to cotton seedlings.”
Vandiver is concerned. “Cotton stand counts less than 0.2 plants per foot of row and corn with severe leaf burn have been observed in fields in the path of these storms. The injury to corn at this stage should not result in measurable yield loss,” he says.
Trostle also thinks corn and grain sorghum was likely at a growth stage where damage would be minimal.
Vandiver recommends producers check a Purdue University article at http://goo.gl/ZpQtm for information on wind and sandblast damage to corn.
He says cotton has not fared well with much of the acreage sustaining “varying degrees of damage, some of which is severe. On the brighter side, irrigated crops not subjected to or more tolerant of the severe conditions associated with the recent storms look pretty good and in some cases very good.”
Crop development is behind last year. “Most cotton is in the cotyledon to two true-leaf stage compared to three to four true-leaf stage for the same time last year. Crop moisture demands remain fairly low, but will soon rapidly increase, especially in corn.”
Anderson says crop development varies widely in Gaines County and ranges from “seed just planted to squaring cotton, with most cotton in the cotyledon to two true-leaf stage. The cotton is a little behind where it normally is this time of the year. Usually most of our cotton is in the two to four true-leaf stage at this point.”
She says peanuts look good, but farmers may have a challenge to get a good canopy. “Large canopies will be essential to this year’s production,” she says. “A larger canopy will be more conducive to higher humidity during the blooming period. High temperatures, moisture stress, and low humidity during blooming can have a severe impact on the flowering response, limiting the number of flowers produced and reducing flower pollination. “A lot of challenges remain, she says. “The drought, blowing sand and weeds continue to be young plants’ worst enemies.”
Trostle says grain sorghum acreage will be up this year but not as much as initially expected. “Some growers waited to plant because it was so dry,” he says. “They may be right in assuming they can trade 30 days of dry conditions now for the possibility of more moisture in September.” He says September is typically the area’s second wettest month.
Mark Kelley, Texas AgriLife Extension cotton specialist at Lubbock, says later planted irrigated cotton and the dryland locations where significant rainfall fell should fare very well as a result of the storm. Crusting could be an issue, however. “Seedlings that were still in the ‘storm shelter’ below ground when the storm came might need some help getting the cellar door open.”