Drought conditions across Texas, with few exceptions, continue to worsen as winter gives way to spring and planting season.
The latest Drought Monitor report from the Texas Water Development Board indicates that 25 percent of the state is now considered in extreme drought status—or worse. That’s twice as much of the state in upper tier drought categories as last week.
And two-thirds of the state is considered in moderate drought, or worse.
Reservoir levels have continued the decline, losing 90,000 acre-feet last week.
Currently, 67 percent of the state is in drought status; that’s up from 64 percent last week and significantly higher than the 46 percent level three months ago. Still, that number, though worsening, remains below last year’s 87 percent drought status during this same period.
Things may get worse, the report indicated. With the exception of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and small areas in Far West Texas, much of the state has received less than 50 percent of normal rainfall over the last 90 days. “That does not bode well for the next six months,” the report said. “A dry winter usually portends a dry spring and summer.”
Facing that possibility, farmers and ranchers have some tough decisions, says a Texas AgriLife Extension crop specialist in the latest crop and weather update.
“As conditions remain very dry across the Texas High Plains, producers are looking at crop decisions that reflect the drought condition,” said Dr. Calvin Trostle, AgriLife Extension agronomist in Lubbock.
Trostle said the most recent drought monitor figures indicate “a backslide” from what appeared to be improving conditions just two weeks ago.
The Texas High Plains and Central regions are hard hit by extreme drought, according to the monitor.
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Crop insurance options, irrigation ability and expectations of rain, Trostle said, will be determining factors in planting decisions for many farmers.
“Farmers with irrigation will most likely plant cotton in the South Plains and a mixture of corn and sorghum in the Panhandle,” he said. “For producers who are dryland, they will probably continue to go forward with cotton. However, because of lower input costs, grain sorghum might be a better choice, especially if they choose to wait toward the tail end of the planting season, which is about a month later for sorghum than it is for cotton.”
Farmers will weigh not only the drought tolerance of cotton versus grain sorghum but also the overall economic advantages, including crop insurance, which favors cotton.
“As you move northward into the Texas Panhandle, you’re more likely to see corn on the table as a cropping option,” he said. “Historically, for full-season corn that is fully irrigated, producers want to get it in by April or the first half of May.
“But what I hear from producers today is that if they are looking at limited irrigation, they may choose a corn hybrid with a shorter maturity and maybe plant late May into mid-June – even late June if they’re south of Amarillo — just for the possibility of catching a late June rainfall and maturing the crop when the worst of the summer heat is over.”
Once again, the Texas planting season will be interesting as farmers look for any advantage from one crop or another and still keep an eye on every cloud that skirls across the sky, hoping for a drought-breaking rain.
More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website.