Texas crop, weather report

Conditions in much of the state remained dry, stressing pastures and winter pasture crops.

Long-term dry conditions are not just stressing crops. They are changing the face of agriculture, said Dr. James Gallagher, Texas AgriLife Extension Service wildlife and fisheries specialist based in Uvalde.

With rainfall historically low in the grassland savannah region of Texas - what's commonly called the "brush country" - wildlife incomes are surpassing those of traditional agriculture operations such as livestock and crops, Gallagher said.

"Wildlife is more drought-tolerant than other agricultural enterprises," he said.

And they are potentially highly profitable, he said.

For example, at the upscale level, hunting packages for deer or quail can bring from $10,000 to $20,000 per hunter, he said.

Of course, to be able to charge those fees, the landowners have made large investments, investing hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, in first-class housing, he said. Some have even brought in chefs that could work in a five-star restaurant, and providing professional entertainment.

"The inputs in a wildlife operation can be from nothing to more money than most of us can imagine, but for the average landowner, it takes very low input to achieve a consistent wildlife crop that available for use by both a consumptive and non-consumptive users," Gallagher said.

Gallagher said "consumptive users" usually refers to hunters, while "non-consumptive users" include wildlife enthusiasts such as bird watchers and photographers.

Gallagher is putting together a program for a fall conference for landowners interested in diversifying into wildlife. The tentative title for the conference is "Making Dollars and Sense Out of Wildlife." He is planning the conference for sometime in mid-August.

The following condition reports are from AgriLife Extension agents and officials from throughout the state:

CENTRAL: High winds dried out soils and left many wheat fields lying close to the ground. Producers sprayed for greenbugs. Pecan crop quantity is high, but except for natives varieties, much of the crop is of poor quality.

COASTAL BEND: Conditions remained dry to very dry. Harvesting of all summertime crops was completed and cool season grasses and clovers were growing well. Some producers were applying fertilizer to winter pastures, but many continued to wait for rain. Livestock producers were supplementing herds with hay and protein.

EAST: Some counties received as much as 1 inch of rain, but all of the region needs more moisture. Dry and windy conditions continued to increase the danger of wildfires. Winter pastures were not growing well. High prices have caused producers to cut back on fertilizer and to plant fewer acres than in past years. Heavy supplementation of livestock began. Nacogdoches County reported whiteflies on greenhouse tomatoes.

FAR WEST: Top soil moisture is very short to adequate. Range and pastures were in very poor to good condition. With dry conditions, the danger of wildfires continues. Winter wheat is in very poor to good condition. Oats are in fair to good condition. Cotton ginning continued.

NORTH: Soil moisture ranged from adequate to short. Weather was dry and relatively mild with high winds. The cotton harvest was completed, and the pecan harvest neared completion. Wheat emerged and responded favorably to good growing conditions, but it and other small grains could use more rain. Hay movement remained sluggish and stagnant. Some dairymen prepared to green chop wheat and oats. Livestock were in fair to good condition, and winter feeding continued. Several grass fires were reported in the last two weeks, and Van Zandt county commissioners have instituted a burn ban. Range and pastures were in fair condition.

PANHANDLE: Soil moisture ranged from very short to adequate with most areas reporting short to very short. High winds have delayed harvest of the few remaining cotton fields. Wheat ranged from very poor to excellent with most areas reporting fair to poor. The crop would benefit from a good rain or snow. Range conditions are rated mostly fair, though there is a high danger of wildfire. Cattle were in good condition. Supplemental feeding continued.

ROLLING PLAINS: Dry conditions returned to the region, continuing to limit growth of small grains. Producers hope that December's above average temperatures and moisture saved this wheat crop from disaster. Very little wheat is suitable for grazing at this time. The bumper summer hay crop is being fed at a record pace because of poor range conditions. With little winter wheat, and pastures beginning to play out, producers are being forced to sell off calves earlier than expected or send them to feedlots. Hay inventories remained high, and very small quantities were changing hands. The pecan harvest continued. Growers were pruning peach trees.

SOUTH: Extremely dry conditions continued throughout the region. In order for crops such as wheat, spinach, onions and carrots to progress, those producers who can are irrigating. Citrus, sugarcane and vegetable harvesting is still active in the mid-region. Producers are preparing for spring planting. Livestock producers are feeding livestock supplements.

SOUTH PLAINS: Weather conditions have remained mild through this past week, with lows in the 20s to 30s F and afternoon highs in the 50s and 60s. No chance of precipitation has been forecast for the immediate future. A few fields of cotton remain unharvested. However, many tarp-covered modules still dot the landscape and gins continued to run to catch up. Winter wheat was in poor to fair condition and remained in need of moisture. Field activity included shredding of stalks and chiseling. Pastures and ranges were in poor to fair condition. Cattle conditions were mostly fair to good with feeding of supplements continuing.

SOUTHEAST: Temperatures were in the 40s F, which is warmer than normal for the season. With next to zero rainfall and persistent winds, winter pastures were stressed, forcing producers to begin feeding livestock. Hay consumption increased and producers are putting out large amounts of supplement. Numerous wildfires were reported. Prep work for field crops continued. Pastures remained fair to good. Despite record high commodity prices, diesel and fertilizer input prices discouraging for producers. A common scenario was for producers to lose money on cotton, break even on rice and make money on corn. Hay growers are searching for fertilizer alternatives.

SOUTHWEST: The region remained dry with only about 45 percent of the average long-term cumulative rainfall since Aug. 1. Less than 1inch of cumulative rainfall (only about 18 percent of the long-term average for the same period) was received since Oct. 1. Fields have been prepared for early spring planting, but subsoil moisture was very low. The region will need above-average early spring rain to sustain crops planted under dryland conditions. Forage availability is below average. Dry roadways and fields increased the potential for roadside fires. Farmers were irrigating heavily. The cabbage and spinach harvest continued. The onions crop showed some recovery from the mid-December hard-freeze. Hunting continued to dominate ranching activities, especially during weekends.

WEST CENTRAL: Very windy conditions with warm days and cold nights continued this week. Soil moisture continued to decline in all counties. The cotton harvest wound down with excellent yields reported. Winter small grains were in poor condition from lack of moisture. Range and pastures also need moisture. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued to increase. Lambing season began with good to above average survival rates.

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