As the winter season winds down with temperatures unseasonably high for this time of year, the heavy rains forecast as a result of an active El Niño this year have failed to develop, at least so far.
In fact, things are getting fairly dry again in many parts of Texas, especially in the Coastal Bend. Farmers on the mid-coast in Nueces, San Patricio and Refugio Counties have been hoping for a little rain this month before planting. Much of the corn crop is already in the ground, and this week planters started dropping sorghum seeds in many fields across coastal regions and in the Rio Grande Valley.
But in spite of high hopes for rain before planting, as of late February, rainfall has been light, raising concerns and dampening hopes for a wet start to what appears to be an early spring.
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County Agents Jason Ott in Nueces County and Bobby McCool in San Patricio County report subsoil moisture adequate for now, enough to get the planting season started in South Texas, but both warn that rain would be a major boost to emerging plants.
Meteorologist Dale Nelson in Corpus Christi reports beneficial rainfall and soil moisture so far this year are in sharp contrast to 2015. Exceptionally wet conditions throughout much of the spring season last year delayed sorghum planting and caused a serious decline in cotton acres
“Traditionally Nueces County is the top grain sorghum producing county in Texas. Last year (in 2015) we harvested about 199,682 acres with an average yield of 3,500 pounds of grain per acre that generated a crop value of approximately $59 million,” Ott reports. “We harvested about 19,000 acres of corn, just over 2,700 acres of sesame, some sunflower, 23,000 acres of wheat and just over 28,500 acres of cotton last year.”
COTTON ACRES OFF IN ‘15
He says cotton acres were down substantially last year because of heavy rains prevented planting or replanting cotton and sorghum, and as a result, total crop production was down considerably, off from just over $150 million in 2014 to $112 million in 2015.
Crop production numbers in San Patricio County were also down considerably last year as a result of the exceptionally heavy spring rains and the return of more rains in the summer.
Following those declines in crop production, farmers across the region, who are already facing troubles with escalating inputs and weak market prices, are hoping for a good crop year in 2016.
“The 2015 growing season started with excessively wet conditions that continued throughout the growing season. This delayed planting in most cases and in many instances prevented it all together,” Ott says.
A drive across the Coastal Bend late last spring revealed many fallow fields and others that were either partially planted or damaged from wide-scale flooding. Replanting efforts were challenged by rain and wet fields until many farmers finally found themselves past planting deadlines and too deep into the growing season to do anything.
“As a result of the excessive precipitation, grain sorghum yields varied widely across the county but were close to the 10-year estimated yield average. While little cotton was planted, strong yields were observed in most fields. The result was crops producing respectable yields in 2015, in most cases,” Ott writes in a year-end report this week.
Across the Coastal Bend, planters are rolling in hopes of getting off to a fast start in 2016. While a mild winter and above-average temperatures most of the month have allowed growers to prepare their fields early and to plant as early as possible, most are hoping for rain soon.
Last week the U.S. Drought Monitor revealed nearly 45 percent of Texas currently faces abnormally dry conditions. An area in Central Texas around Austin is actually suffering D-1 moderate drought conditions.
Some rain is expected to move through the areas in the days ahead and farmers in central coastal regions hope at least some of that rain will make it as far south as the Texas coast.