In 2011, one of the worst years for drought in South Texas, less than 12 inches of rain fell on the lower half of the state, a devastating year for agriculture and the start to one of the worst extended drought periods on record.
In 2015, in the month of May, nearly 14 inches of rain were recorded in Corpus Christi, Texas, and even greater amounts in other South Texas locations, as much as 18 inches in isolated areas, bringing flash floods, swollen rivers and streams, and saturated soils that either delayed planting schedules or destroyed young crops that had already been planted.
While on opposite ends of the weather spectrum, both climate events were devastating to farmers. In 2011, many fields remained fallow, and those that were planted performed poorly if at all. In contrast, heavy weather in the spring of 2015 destroyed crops, prevented planting, and as of this week some fields remain wet, muddy and inaccessible.
From a farmer's perspective, the two weather predicaments seem similar, with one major difference. When the rains failed to fall in 2011, all hope was lost for most farmers. The ground remained sizzled and parched for an extended period; not even the weeds would grow well. A month after the historic rains of May 2015, not only are the weeds thriving in many fields, but late planted crops have emerged, and with each passing day of sunshine and warm weather, corn and sorghum plants that were lodging from the high winds and floods are growing taller and looking healthier.
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In the Lower Rio Grande Valley, corn harvest is underway. Like most of South Texas, some fields are still wet as thunderstorms and heavy rains continue to creep across some fields from time to time. But what many thought would be another tragic year shows promise with, at least some fields colored by the green and gold of leaf and grain.
South Texas harvest underway
"Harvest time has begun in corn, grain sorghum, and sunflowers as Valley growers work around the rain and wet field conditions," reports Danielle Ortiz, Texas AgriLife IPM Extension Agent in Weslaco. "The majority of cotton in the Valley is anywhere from three to five nodes above white flower with later cotton at seven to eight NAWF."
While cotton acres are drastically down across South Texas as across most of the state, farmers who were able to establish a cotton crop hope a good soil profile and recurring rains will help offset losses in fields where ponding has dwarfed many plants.
Ortiz says most grain sorghum fields in the Valley are two to three weeks from harvest, but good yields are already being reported in spite of the weather challenges.
Across most of South Texas pest activity is reported moderate to heavy, including pressure from stinkbugs, Verde bugs, and tarnished plant bugs in established cotton; three-cornered alfalfa hoppers, foliage feeding pests including soybean loopers, and various caterpillar species and stinkbugs in Valley soybeans; and low populations of sugarcane aphids in sorghum fields.
Grain sorghum and cotton planting in the Coastal Bend was largely delayed by excessive rains in spring—as much as 38 to 40 inches since the new year began in some areas. But fair weather for most of June has allowed many fields that were eventually planted to flourish. However, a check with county agents and farmers across the Coastal Bend indicates wet and muddy fields have left many expecting weaker yields for grain sorghum and cotton and fewer acres for most crops.
"We were late planting and as a result plants are smaller and just not that strong," reports Bobby Nedbalek who farms just outside of Mathis. "It's been too wet for too long."
In Jim Wells County, farmers report only about half the 10,000 acres of cotton have been planted, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Agent Rogelio Mercado. He says farmers have planted about 20 percent fewer grain sorghum acres, the result of excessive rains and problems associated with late planting.
"With all the rain, farmers had to get in and plant what they could when and where they could," Mercado said. "There is a lot of variation in growth stages as a result."
Nedbalek agrees it will be a mixed year in the Coastal Bend with good acres and bad acres as a result of the heavy rains and flooding in May and early June.
County agents across Coastal Texas are already seeing heavy pest pressure and some disease related to saturated soils, but an effective treatment plan and improvement in weather conditions could help many farmers realize better-than-expected yields in some areas. Meanwhile, all eyes stay focused on the weather.