First it was too wet to plant. Then it dried out enough to get seed in the ground. Then it got too wet and too cool for optimum growth and by mid April it was too dry again.
That combination of climatic conditions has much of the Texas Coastal Bend cotton, grain sorghum and corn crops off to a slow start, as much as a month behind where farmers would prefer crop progress to be by early May.
“We're starting off much like we did last year,” says Jeff Stapper, Extension agent in San Patricio County, a bit north and east of Corpus Christi. “We have a late start. We were dry into planting time and then we got wet. The first week of corn planting was about on time and then it started to rain and that prolonged corn seeding. It also strung out cotton planting until the first of April. We're about a month late.”
Stapper says the delay could have reduced corn acreage slightly. “But a lot of farmers had to plant anyway because they had treated seed and could not return it. Some switched to grain sorghum.”
He says the county may have grain sorghum crops planted at four different times. “We could run into harvest problems but most growers have their own combines so they should be able to cope with the delays. Some may have to invest more money in late-season insect control to take care of midge,” he says.
A few cold snaps on top of the rain delays also hampered early cotton growth, Stapper says. “We got a lot of the cotton in the ground in mid-March and then temperatures dropped to the mid-30s. Some cotton took 14 days to emerge and it was slow growing. Some fields were so wet that tractors got stuck.”
An unusual snowfall that blanketed the area last winter made the soils unusually soft. “Some growers had to stop and finish planting later. In some fields, we have three separate conditions, wet spots, dry spots and blowing sand,” Stapper says.
Need rain now
“We're ready for a little rain now,” says San Patricio County farmer Bobby Nedbalek. “So far, so good, but a rain would freshen things up a little. We're already running about a month late.”
Most of Nedbalek's grain sorghum, corn and cotton crops were up to a good stand by mid-April and he says a good rain would give them a needed boost to overcome the late start.
“That February rain slowed us down. We were out of the fields for a month,” he says. “And we had a couple of rains in late March. Most everybody around here was through planting by April 1. We pushed as hard as we knew how.”
Clarence Chopless, who farms just several miles from Nedbalek, says he's late, too. “We just had too much rain at planting time.”
But he's optimistic about his prospects.
“We just need about an inch of rain on the cotton and grain sorghum and about three inches on the corn.”
He's concerned that a good bit of early-applied herbicides will not work properly because of heavy rain.
As if the weather delay weren't enough, farmers are beginning to see early-season insect pressure, including loopers in cotton.
“Farmers have already sprayed some fields,” says Texas Extension entomologist Roy Parker, who works out of the Texas A&M Extension and Research Center in Corpus Christi. “We've seen looper eggs all over cotton and in pigweed. I've never seen them that heavy on pigweed.”
He's identified “moderate to heavy levels” of chinch bugs in corn but says seed treatments have worked well. “We've seen some sugarcane aphids in grain sorghum. We're not sure how bad it will get but a few have had to overspray.”
David Lucky, agronomy production specialist with Ag Reliance, confirms Parker's report of sugarcane aphids. “They don't seem to be widespread,” Lucky says. “We've also seen cabbage loopers in two cotton fields.”
He says insect pests have not reached significant levels yet but he encourages growers to watch for build-ups.
He says some grain sorghum has shown iron chlorosis. “We sold more Pioneer 8585 seed this year and we are evaluating it (for less susceptibility to iron chlorosis). Some fields seem to be in worse shape than they actually are,” he says.
Texas Extension specialist Steve Livingston, also out of the Corpus Christi Station, says he's working with growers to make certain they get adequate weed control in adverse herbicide conditions.
He says some fields received as much as eight or nine inches of rain “at the end of March. But now it's dry. Our last rain was March 26. Farmers with pivots have begun watering cotton.”
He says temperatures the week of April 11 reached 90 degrees and were followed by strong winds that dried the soils out and stressed young plants.
Soils down six inches are still wet but the top three inches are powder dry.”
Growers need a good rain to push small roots deeper into the soil profile.