Rains come, but drought persists

Concern, anxiety, worry, care, desperation. Whatever you want to call it, farmers and ranchers have much more of it than moisture as the drought continues, reported Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel from throughout the state.

Agricultural producers' drought-related concerns range from worry there won't be enough moisture to plant spring crops, anxiety over the increasing risk of wildfires, and angst about steadily decreasing milk prices to desperation about the continuance of their livelihood, said AgriLife Extension agents.

On March 10 - 11, a band of scattered showers from San Antonio to Dallas helped some. But the areas hardest hit by the drought will need much more rain to recover, AgriLife Extension personnel said.

"Polk County is and has been under a burn ban for some time," said Mark Currie, AgriLife Extension agent for Polk County, north of Houston. "There is much concern among producers regarding the lack of moisture and the future prospects for moisture this spring."

"High winds are removing soil moisture quick," said Clint Perkins, AgriLife Extension agent for Wood County, south of Sulphur Springs. "Milk prices continue to decrease. Many dairy producers are worried."

"Drought conditions are growing more severe by the day," said Jeff Wyatt, AgriLife Extension agent for Dawson County, south of Lubbock. "High winds have added to the worsening situation."

"Another dry week here. Still not much happening with regards to planting or working ground," said Todd Beyers, AgriLife Extension agent for Lamb County, southwest of Amarillo. "Some plows have been out, but very little. We are getting to the point we are desperate for rain."

"The dry conditions continue to prevail in the county," said Wes Utley, AgriLife Extension agent for Haskell County, north of Abilene. "Producers are concerned about wheat production and growth. The county has only received 0.5 inches of moisture since mid-October."

"Very, very, very dry conditions continue to strangle the county and reach every aspect of ag commodities," said John Senter, AgriLife Extension agent for Mitchell County, west of Abilene. "The wheat condition continues to decline and the majority of fields are showing daily signs of severe stress, even to the point of massive dead and dying stands. Cattle that would normally be grazing wheat are found only in a few locations where only marginal grazing exists."

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

CENTRAL: Dry conditions prevailed. Rain and runoff was needed to replenish soil moisture and fill stock ponds. Trees were drought-stressed and dying. Windy conditions continued to raise the danger of wildfire in all counties. Reports of feral hogs increased. Condition of livestock worsened as calves were born and nutritional needs increased.

COASTAL BEND: The drought continued, and high winds exacerbated the drying out of soil and pastures. Few crops were planted due to no soil moisture. Pastures were nearly nonexistent, and ranchers were feeding livestock. Some were reducing herds.

EAST: Rain was severely needed in all counties. Stock ponds and pastures were drying out. Burn bans were in effect in most counties. Nacogdoches and Newton counties reported several wildfires. Fruit trees, shrubs and other spring plants were starting to bloom despite the dry soil condition.Cattle lice were a problem in parts of Henderson County. Milk prices continued to decrease.

FAR WEST: Extremely dry conditions persisted throughout the region. Burn bans remained in effect in many counties. Many fruit trees were trying to bloom while the earlier-leafing deciduous trees have leafed out. Spring wheat was planted and 75 percent emerged with good stands. Irrigated wheat looked good, and dryland wheat was doing better than expected under dry conditions. Rain was needed to maintain present wheat conditions and for growth to continue. Fall-planted onions came out of dormancy and regrowth was good. Alfalfa broke dormancy also. Land for cotton and peppers was prepared with a few acres already pre-irrigated. Pecan orchards were cleaned and pruned. Some orchards were given their first irrigation.

NORTH: Temperatures have been 10 degrees to 20 degrees above normal for this time of year. High winds kept top soil moisture levels from low to non-existent. Even though conditions were extremely dry, corn planting was in full swing and proceeding on schedule. Forecast of a possible rain stimulated farmers to try to get as much corn planted as possible. Land preparation was under way for other spring crops. Despite the dry conditions wheat looked fair to good, but growth was slow. Small grains and winter pastures also needed moisture. Sorghum planting began. Producers were concerned over limited forage and winter grain production. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Dairy producers were green-chopping wheat. Livestock producers were supplying large amounts of supplemental feed. Range and pasture conditions were poor. Peach trees began to bloom.

PANHANDLE: The region remained dry, with burn bans and red-flag warnings (high-danger of fires) reported. Temperatures and wind speeds were above normal. Wheat producers irrigated where possible, and other producers began to pre-plant watering spring crops. With wheat's drought-stressed condition, insect activity increased. Pesticide applicators sprayed the wheat for greenbugs and Russian wheat aphids. Cattle on wheat pasture made excellent gains. Range and pasture conditions were poor to very poor across much of the southern half of the region, while the northern half was in a slightly better situation.

ROLLING PLAINS: Soil moisture and stock water supplies remained critically low. Conditions remained extremely dry. The region must receive rain soon for many producer operations to survive. Most wheat producers were able to get a stand, and said a rain in the next two weeks could result in a near-average crop. But hot, dry winds have eroded their optimism. All agriculture enterprises remained stressed from the dry conditions of the last six months. Because producers continued to feed cattle hay and supplements, and reduce stocking rates, livestock were in fair condition.

SOUTH: The entire region continued to experience drought conditions: the temperature ranged from warm to hot, with high winds, no rain and extremely short soil moisture. There was an increase in field activity preparations for planting in the northern parts of the region. Corn planting began. Most of the potato crop emerged. The harvesting of cabbage, lettuce and spinach was ongoing. In the western parts of the region, producers applied pre-planting irrigation water to prospective corn, cotton, onion and cabbage fields. The harvesting of both processing and fresh-market varieties of spinach was expected to finish soon. Farm service agencies in the western part of the region asked county judges to formally request their counties be declared as disaster counties for the 2009 production year. The planting of irrigated and dryland crops in the southern parts of the region continued. Range and pasture conditions remained in extremely poor shape all over the region. Many ranchers were holding on, while others were forced to reduce their herds. Overall, cattle numbers continue to decline.

SOUTH PLAINS: The region experienced much warmer than normal temperatures. Many trees were in full bloom or were budding. Soil moisture was very short to short. Spring planting preparation continued and fertilizer applications were under way. Winter wheat was in very poor to poor condition and irrigation continued. Pastures and ranges were in very poor to poor condition. Cattle were in fair to good condition with supplemental feeding continuing.

SOUTHEAST: No precipitation this week, and high winds promoted moisture evaporation in soils that were already deficient. Planting of corn and some grain sorghum was moderately active, but only in areas with moisture. No-till was paying off as fields with high plant residue tended to have the most moisture, allowing for planting. Brazoria County has only received 0.2 inch to 1 inch total rain for 2009. Colder days slowed grass green-up. Spring planting continued despite dry conditions. Grain sorghum was being planted.

SOUTHWEST: The region remained completely dry. The five-month period from September through Feb. 28, was the driest period on record with only 1.16 inches of total rain, compared to a long-term average close to 10.5 inches. Forage availability was almost non-existent. High, dry winds created dust storms and increased the incidence of roadside and field wildfires. Ranchers provided heavy supplemental nutrition to their remaining livestock. Many stock tanks were dry. The cabbage harvest continued. Potatoes, spring onions and cabbage were all making good progress under heavy irrigation. Irrigated corn and sorghum planting was completed, but almost no dryland crops were planted as of this report. Wheat yields were expected to be the lowest in many years.

WEST CENTRAL: Extreme dry, windy conditions continued. Wildfires threatened many areas. Burn bans remained in effect throughout the region. No field work was being done due to lack of moisture. Irrigated small grains looked fair. All other crops were in very poor to critical condition. Most range and pastures looked over-grazed. Heavy supplemental feeding of livestock continued.

TAGS: Management
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