Far be it from farmers to say enough rain is enough rain. Even when the fields are under water, rain is the fuel that keeps agriculture moving, and it generally turns out to be a good thing, at least in the long run.
But as hard as it may be to admit, many farmers, especially in Deep South Texas and up the coastline as far as the Louisiana border, are wishing the rains would yield, the sun would shine for a week or so and fields would dry long enough to complete planting operations, and then resume in the weeks ahead.
Farmers in lower coastal regions including the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV), the Coastal Bend, and north up the coast as far as the Sabine River, are dealing with wet conditions that have kept them out of their fields for days. Rains since Jan. 1 have been above-average or more in much of the area, spawned by conflicting cold fronts and warmer coastal air masses that clash and create prime conditions for a continuing cycle of cold, wet weather across the southern region of Texas.
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Even in the LRGV where temperatures in February have averaged higher than most places across the state, many fields are either flooded now or too wet for planting. While sorghum growers up and down the coast continue to look for a break in the rain and drier conditions to allow planting, some say they are already considering cotton instead of sorghum if delays in planting schedules continue for another week or longer.
National weather officials say most of coastal Texas has received average winter rainfall since the first of the year, but because the rains were steady and quick to reorganize with the passage of each new late-season cold front, soaking rain showers delivered enough water over a period of time to put many fields partially underwater. Between periods of rainy days, overcast conditions prevented little evaporative help during a break from the rains, leaving fields largely inaccessible over the last couple of weeks.
Over a 14-day span beginning Feb. 27, between 3 and 6 inches of rain fell across most parts of coastal Texas, stretching inland as far as 100 miles. In the last 30 days, isolated areas in Far East Texas received as much as 12 to 15 inches of rain. Southeast Texas and down the coast as far as Victoria picked 5 to 7 inches of rain for the same period. The southern coastline and across the LRGV, received 3 to 6 inches over the last 30 days.
Over the last 60 days, eastern and southeastern regions of the state, including the agricultural-rich upper coast, have recorded 8 to14 inches over wide areas while middle Coastal Bend rainfall totals were 4 to 8 inches, the same as most of the coast and Deep South Texas as far as the Mexican border, according to the National Weather Service's Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service (NWS-AHPS).
Farmers, Extension agents and ag suppliers up and down the coast, say producers are quickly approaching traditional crop planting deadlines and many are already considering making crop acreage changes for the year.
Corn planting lagging
Even in corn-rich areas of the Upper Coastal Bend, farmers are lagging far behind in getting corn planted. Even some farmers in the Valley report that continuing rain and wet fields have delayed getting all the corn in the ground. Sorghum growers in South Texas and the Coastal Bend, the bread basket of Texas grain sorghum production, report fields too wet this week to start planting nearly a million acres of the grain. Analysts say a longer delay may force sorghum growers to plant more cotton.
Earlier this year as cotton prices remained low, USDA estimated that cotton acres would fall all across the Cotton Belt, with Texas possibly feeling the greatest loss. Varying estimates of between a 10 percent to 15 percent drop in cotton acres have been offered, but some analysts say the actual loss should be closer to the low end of that estimate. An exceptionally late season for planting grain sorghum could change that deficit considerably with more farmers switching plans to cotton over sorghum.
Crop specialists say producers still have time to get sorghum in the ground if conditions improve and fields dry enough to facilitate planting. Even late corn in South Texas is expected to be planted over the course of the next 5 to 7 days if the weather cooperates.
National Weather Service forecasters expect rains to filter back down into South Texas beginning by the end of this weekend. A chance for locally heavy rains is possible for rain-soaked areas of the Upper Coastal Bend and into far East Texas by the early part of next week.