Mother Nature sent many Texas farmers an early Valentine's Day card in the form of rain the last week. According to reports from Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel, there were notable exceptions, but many parts of the state received moisture, further improving pastures and rangeland, and raising soil moisture levels for spring planting.
According to AgriLife Extension county agents, the exceptions were western counties of the Rolling Plains district and large parts of the Panhandle, where soil moisture levels remained mostly short to very short.
Far West Texas received some rain, but not nearly enough to improve drought- and fire-damaged pastures. Most areas were still providing supplemental feed to livestock.
The question is, should producers, particularly livestock producers, be optimistic? "I think they have reason to be optimistic, but it's dangerous to be overly optimistic," said Ron Gill, AgriLife Extension livestock specialist, College Station.
"Yes, we have improvement in soil moisture, but the problem we haven't gotten over is the deterioration in pasture and range conditions we experienced last summer and fall."
Even with a wet spring, it's likely to be a long time before pastures and rangeland show full recovery, Gill said. Recovery of introduced warm-season pastures will depend upon many things beside just rainfall.
The extent of the drought or wildfire damage, the cost of fertilizer and stocking rates, both past and present, are all factors, according to Gill. Another factor has to do with how the pastures and rangeland were managed. Many pastures were stocked to capacity, and producers had to cut back on fertilizer use prior to the drought because of cost.
Because prices for cattle were so high, many people tried not to downsize their herds, which led to further deterioration of forage conditions, he said. "If people can afford to apply adequate fertilizer, the pastures will recover fairly early this spring," Gill said.
"If we continue to get rain, and they don't fertilize, and are still overstocked, then they'll continue to deteriorate forage conditions."
Gill said there's been a lot of conjecture about what the proper land-management strategy is at this time, but most producers are being cautious, knowing that their pastures are knocked back and worried about the cost of replacements.
"I haven't seen many people jumping out there and trying to restock yet," he said. "Unless they de-stocked early in the process and conserved some forage, and managed their pastures right -- then they may have the ability to start adding cattle back pretty quickly." Even then, if they jump back into production, and the rainfall patterns don't hold, they could find themselves stuck with some high-priced replacement cattle needing costly hay.
"The situation warrants being careful at this time," he said. More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/.