A blizzard drops in on the Panhandle, but the drought stays for dinner

Moisture, whether it came as snow, hail or rain, was generally welcomed through large parts of the state, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

Much of East Texas received 2-3 inches of rain, with as much as 8 inches in one county.

But many other parts of the state remain in desperate need of moisture, whether to save the wheat crop or allow dryland farmers to plant spring crops, they said.

In the Panhandle, a blizzard brought as much as a foot of snow, providing moisture for fields and pastures but putting livestock at risk, particularly in the region's feed yards, reported David Graf, AgriLife Extension agent in Sherman County, north of Amarillo.

The feed yards have the biggest risk of death loss during a blizzard, Graf said.

"Those cattle tend to pile up on you when you get this kind of weather, and it sounds like (we had) about a half to 1 percent of death loss," he said. "They say you can sustain a 5 percent death loss or higher when you get this kind of weather. If you've got a 50,000-head yard, you're still generally seeing a loss of 500 head or so (at 1 percent), so they were generally pleased with these kind of numbers."

The area was really dry, so the foot or so of snow, which translates to about 2 inches of rain, was really welcome. The problem was that the wind blew so hard that much of the snow passed on through. But where there were corn stalks or grass to catch the snow, as much as a foot accumulated.

"The big thing that it's going to help us on is our grass, and our CRP (conservation reserve program land) and pasture, because there's been no moisture on that for the last several months," he said. "So all that had a little bit of grass or cover caught quite a bit of snow."

One to 2 inches of hail brought moisture to Uvalde County, in Southwest Texas, but it wasn't welcomed by all, even though the region is suffering from extreme drought, said Bryson Dalrymple, AgriLife Extension agent. A half-mile wide swath of hail storms damaged portions of his county's onion crop and newly emerged corn.

At first it was thought large acreages of the onions might have to be abandoned, but his producers are attempting rescue operations, Dalrymple said.

"At this time they have not been abandoned," he said. "The producers have sprayed fungicide on the onion fields. They may not be able to get a fresh crop, but may be able to harvest for processed onions."

The corn crop was just emerging when the hail came, and producers said they did not have as much damage as they first believed, and should still make a crop. These were irrigated acreages, Dalrymple noted. Dryland farmers are not so lucky.

"We're in an extreme drought," he said. "With the exclusion of the rain we had last Thursday, we've only had 1.97 inches of rain in the last six months. So all of our dryland farms are pretty idle at this point in time."

The following summaries were compiled by AgriLife Extension district reporters this week:

CENTRAL: Rain went a long way to alleviate drought conditions, but more is needed. Pasture and small grains were in severe condition. Producers still had to supplement livestock to maintain body condition. Feral hog activity increased in some areas.

COASTAL BEND: The region received some rain, but soil moisture levels were still low. Despite the short soil moisture, some producers planted to meet deadlines. Some corn and sorghum began to emerge, but it was too early to tell whether plant populations will be acceptable. Pastures were expected to improve because of the showers. Much more rain was needed due to the severity of the drought.

EAST: The region received from 1.5-8 inches of rain. Strong winds and thunderstorms caused some damage. Spring forages and grasses greened up and were growing well. Livestock were in good condition.

FAR WEST: There was no precipitation but high winds prevailed. Many fruit trees bloomed, but another freeze was expected. A few pecan trees were just beginning to show buds. The entire area needs rain to green up rangeland. Dryland wheat also needed rain; the crop was nearly past the point of making grain. Irrigated wheat looked good.

NORTH: Soil moisture ranged from adequate to surplus. Recent rains brightened the overall production agricultural picture, but more rain was needed to recharge the soil. A cold snap followed the rain, which slowed some crop development. The rain helped to fill some stock tanks, but only a few were back to normal levels. Wheat was in fair to good condition and looked much better after the rain. Corn emerged and looked good as the planting neared completion. Soybeans and sorghum planting were also in progress. Pastures greened up; Bermuda grass was growing, though slowly due to cool days. The improving ryegrass in pastures allowed some producers to reduce supplemental feeding of livestock. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Rangeland was in poor to good condition.

PANHANDLE: Cold weather, high winds and as much as 12 inches of snow came to the region, but soil moisture remained short. Producers continued field work until the blizzard put a halt to all activities. Winter wheat was stressed due to adverse weather conditions and increased insect activity. Producers sprayed some wheat for greenbugs and Russian wheat aphids. There were also signs of disease in wheat. Fields were pre-irrigated for corn plantings.

ROLLING PLAINS: Freezing temperatures and a light dusting of snow fell across much of the region. With much of the wheat crop in the boot to heading stage, near freezing temperature may have caused a significant portion of the crop to be lost. Hessian fly was found again. Pastures continued to green up, but significant moisture was needed to sustain growth. Stock tank levels continued to drop. Producers continued preparing fields for planting of cotton, milo, sesame and safflowers.

SOUTH: The northern part of the region received from 2 to 2.5 inches of rain bringing soil moisture to adequate levels. Short to very short soil moisture conditions prevailed throughout the rest of the region. Potato fields were flowering; green bean planting began; sorghum planting continued; and most corn emerged in the northern counties. In the eastern counties, producers were dry-planting grain sorghum and cotton, but planting conditions were extremely bad. In the western counties, dryland farmers were also actively planting dryland sorghum, but rain will be needed for the crops to start to grow. Cabbage harvesting continued, and harvesting of fresh-market and processing spinach was completed. Also in the eastern counties, onions progressed well, and corn was developing well under irrigation. Producers were preparing land for melon planting, and wheat was being heavily irrigated as it was in its critical seed-development stage. Row crops were progressing well in the southern counties. With the exception of a few northern counties, range and pastures continued to show signs of drought stress. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued, and many producers needing hay found it hard to locate and expensive. Stock tank levels continued to decline.

SOUTH PLAINS: The region had warm and windy weather, followed by a cold front that brought freezing temperatures and snow across many areas in the northern part of the region. Southern counties received some scattered showers. Producers continued to do land preparation and pre-irrigate for all crops. Dryland wheat was in very poor condition. However, irrigated wheat was in good condition. Pastures and rangeland continued to dry out. Supplemental feeding continued.

SOUTHEAST: Rain dramatically improved range conditions, but soil moisture was short, and more rain was needed to bring up spring grasses. Combining last year's shortfall with the deficit for 2009, the region was 25 inches behind on rain. Bermuda grass pastures and St. Augustine turf was slow to respond to warm temperatures due to lack of soil moisture. Livestock were doing well. Winter hay feeding was nearly stopped.

SOUTHWEST: Recent rains reduced the incidence of road-side and field fires, but high winds desiccated soils and increased the risk of range fires. The past seven-month period was the second-driest on record. About 70 percent of the 3.56 inches of rain since Sept. 1 fell during the past three weeks. The soil profile remained very dry. High winds with gusts of over 40 mph created heavy dust storms because crop land was open, ready, but unplanted. Hail from a March 26 thunderstorm damaged some onion fields near Uvalde; some fields will have to be abandoned. Ranchers were forced to continue providing heavy supplemental nutrition to their remaining livestock. Stock tanks were partially re-filled, but many remained nearly dry. The cabbage and spinach harvest continued. Potatoes, spring onions and spring cabbage made good progress under heavy irrigation. Planting of irrigated corn and sorghum were completed. Cotton planting continued.

WEST CENTRAL: Warm dry days with cool nights were the rule. A few areas reported scattered showers, but high winds quickly dried out soils. There was very little field activity due to dry soils. Some producers applied herbicides for weed control. Some small grains showed some improvement from recent rains, but wheat did not show much promise. Forages broke winter dormancy, and pastures greened up. Livestock conditions improved somewhat. Producers continued supplemental feeding of livestock. Pecan trees began to bud out, and fruit trees were in full bloom.

TAGS: Management
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