From the southernmost tip of the state to the hills of south central Texas, the lower half of the state is greening up as the great wheels of agriculture begin to roll across field and pasture this spring, a brisk start to a new growing, calving season on the farms and ranches of the Texas southland.
Farmers are still picking the last of the spinach, and strawberries are ripening on the vine across the Texas Winter Garden region as rice producers are busy putting down as much seed as the ground will support in hopes of another wet season on the mid-to-upper coast.
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While rain has been stingy is some places, a few South Texas ranchers report some of their winter wheat and oats survived a dry start to the year and while pastures are still lacking enough cover to keep the herds grazing for long, there is hope spotty rain showers will continue to keep some moisture in the soil as memories of drier times linger like sour grapes.
Deep South Texas
Spring conditions in the Lower Rio Grande Valley continue to encourage young plants out of the soil. Most corn and grain sorghum emerged 2 to 3 weeks ago and continues to develop well in soil with adequate moisture. Most cotton has reached the 2 to 3 true leaf stage with earlier cotton at the 5 to 6 leaf stage.
Light rain has fallen consistently over the last couple of weeks, just enough to help plants emerge and grow, but soil moisture will need revitalizing in the growing season. Some rain has covered large areas of South Texas over the last week and more is forecast to arrive over the next few days.
Higher concentrations of fleahoppers are being reported in parts of the Valley, especially in Cameron County, where early aphids are also showing up in fields, especially in 3-leaf cotton. Concern also continues to mount over the reappearance of sugarcane aphids that survived the winter and are expected to returns in larger numbers as the growing season progresses.
Substantial rains over parts of South Texas, especially in Kleberg and Kenedy counties, have greened up pastures since the beginning of the month and aided what winter forage remains. Cool nights and mostly warm afternoons are maximizing growing conditions and ranchers report cattle are healthy, though supplemental feeding continues. Soil moisture was mostly short in the northern counties of the South Texas region. Livestock body conditions declined slightly in some areas because of nutrient demands associated with spring calving.
Onion harvest continues in the Valley and cabbage harvest begins to wrap up in areas north of the Valley. Citrus, sugarcane and vegetable harvesting is wrapping up across most of South Texas.
Spinach season is all but over and strawberries are just beginning to peak across southern reaches of the Winter Garden region. While moisture levels continue to fall, some beneficial rain fell in some areas, bringing pasture health up in some places.
Row crop planting is finishing up, especially in Southwest Texas, and new vegetable plants are in the ground around Uvalde. Specialty crop growers are reporting a good start to the spring growing season and wildlife specialists say deer herds look to be in good condition as foliage returns to rangeland.
The demands of calving season are increasing across South Central Texas and stockmen report supplemental feeding continues while early culling operations are planned for the weeks ahead.
Pecan growers report buds have broken on most trees, and hay growers continue to fertilize and spray for pests.
In the lower Coastal Bend, farmers are reporting a good start on corn, grain sorghum and cotton as mild spring conditions help keep soil moisture at reasonable levels as light showers bring spring rains again this week. But conditions are drying slowly and more rain will be needed to prevent another drought disaster like the last two years.
Corn was planted early in the southern reaches of the Coastal Bend and some young sorghum has emerged. Some early planted cotton is being replanted and more cotton is emerging with some reaching the 2 to 3 true-leaf stage this past week.
In San Patricio, Aransas and Refugio counties early corn and grain crops are faring well as some light showers fell over the last week and more expected this week. A little farther up the coast, farmers have been dealing with wet fields after a late harvest last fall as a result of heavier rains.
Cotton, grain and corn growers hope spring and summer will be as wet as last year in the mid-coast region. Record grain and cotton were reported in a few areas last year and farmers say a repeat of a good harvest would go a long way to offset the damage from a 2 to 3-year drought.
Of particular concern, however, is disease and pest pressure, especially the uncertainty over the return of sugarcane aphids around Victoria. Either a new variety of deadly aphid or a sugarcane-variant aphid is expected to re-emerge in potentially troubling numbers this year. Grain sorghum farmers are most concerned as early projections indicate grain crops could be targeted by this new pest pressure.
Rice farmers up the coast continue to struggle with irrigation water availability after the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) was granted an emergency order from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for a third year in a row that will curtail irrigation water for rice fields. Some rice has been planted and early estimates are it will be about the same reduced number of acres this year as were planted in 2013.
In Brazoria County, warm and dry weather allowed producers to increase corn and sorghum planting. Corn was already emerging and cotton planting was expected to begin soon. In Chambers County, very little rice was planted because of exceptionally wet conditions.
Extreme Southeast Texas all the way up the coast to the Louisiana border is reporting a later-than-usual start to the spring growing season because of either cooler soil temperatures and/or because of exceptionally wet fields that have limited planting operations.