Texas weather report: Still dry

COLLEGE STATION - Farmers and ranchers were hopeful that last weekend's weather would yield plentiful rain on land that is more than thirsty, but much of the state came up dry again, Texas Cooperative Extension officials report.

"King County reported no moisture and no rain, but they have had some heavy fog and dew over the past couple of nights that has put some moisture in the air and on the ground." noted Galen Chandler, Extension administrator in Vernon. "Clay County got some rain and sleet during the latter part of last week."

Still, Chandler said, the region around Vernon needs much more moisture to make a dent in the extended drought. Some of the area has received only half of its normal rainfall amount in the past year - the least since

1954, he said.

"The recent rains were insufficient for any positive impact on agriculture in the area," said Jose Pena, Extension economist in Uvalde. "There has been just enough rain recently to settle the dust and marginally help in planting, but not for much more.

"I expect that irrigated crops such as cotton and corn will do well again this year, producing fairly respectable yields. However, forage continues to be sparse, and it will be difficult for dryland crops to do well if the current soil (moisture) profile continues."

Cold, dry weather - temperatures in the upper teens to low 20s in fields near rivers - caused some problems in vegetable crops, according to Brenda Rue, Extension administrator in Fort Stockton.

"Cool season crops can develop cold hardiness if periodic low temperatures and frosts occur, but the prevailing warm weather before this weekend kept vegetable plants tender and vulnerable to freeze injury," she said. "The worst affected fields had dryer soil at the time of the freeze and were in low lying areas."

Similar conditions may have harmed crops a little further north of there as well.

"Extremely cold temperatures and dry conditions are hurting winter wheat and grass development," said Scott Durham, Extension administrator in San Angelo.

Despite the cold snap, signs of spring are appearing in some areas, Extension officials noted.

Tony Douglas, Extension administrator in Dallas, said warm weather made some of the area's ryegrass perk up. Sweet potato farmers also started getting land ready this week, he noted.

"Spring babies are starting to be born in this area - lambs, kids, calves and colts," Chandler said of the region near Vernon.

East Texas is among the few parts of Texas that have seen weather normalizing lately, Extension officials there said, and that holds promise for the spring.

"Bermuda grass pastures may look bad now, but most should recover this spring with a little rain," said Dr. Joe Vendramini, Extension forage specialist.

Vendramini said that many pastures may have bare spots caused by the drought, and these open areas tend to be filled in with cool-season weeds after rains.

This spring, the cool-season weeds should go dormant, and with afertilization and weed control program, most pastures should eventually recover without having to be resprigged, he said.

The following conditions were reported by Extension districts this week:

PANHANDLE: Temperatures were above average before plunging to the single digits by week's end. The arctic front brought no moisture. The poor-to-very-poor wheat crop continues to decline from lack of moisture.

Some wheat is being irrigated. Rangelands are mostly poor to very poor.

Some land preparation for spring crops is in progress. Cattle condition is fair to good with active supplemental feeding.

SOUTH PLAINS: Warm weather with temperatures in the 70s was followed by a cold front with daytime highs in the 30s and nighttime lows in the teens. Gins work toward completing the 2005 cotton crop. Wheat is in poor-to-very-poor condition as are pastures and ranges. Producers continue to prepare for spring planting. Supplemental feeding of livestock continues.

ROLLING PLAINS: Extremely dry, warm and windy weather continues. Most stock tanks are low to completely dry. With supplemental feeding, hay supplies are running low, but cattle look good. Range sites are dry with no visible greening in native, cool-season grasses. Land is being prepared for spring planting with hopes for rain. As much as three-fourths of the wheat is lost and likely will be planted to dryland cotton, sudan grass or guar, or left bare.

NORTH: Soil moisture varies widely from very short to surplus, and that means crops and pastures also are in very-poor-to-excellent condition.

Overall, however, the area suffers from severe drought and high fire danger. A shortage of water for livestock is also critical. Farmers will start planting corn as soon as the weather and soil conditions permit.

Wheat has emerged but is in desperate need of moisture. Unseasonably high temperatures and high winds dried the area again, even in areas that received rains two weeks ago.

EAST: Rains helped winter pastures, ryegrass and clover. Some producers fertilized pastures, hoping to take advantage of rainfall. Most stock pond levels have increased. Cattle conditions remain fair to good, though calves are experiencing some respiratory problems due to weather conditions. Vegetable growers are preparing land for planting, and some potatoes and onions have been planted. Peach growers hope for predicted rain and sleet, because their trees need a certain number of "chilling hours" to make a crop.

FAR WEST: Soil moisture ranges from very short to adequate. As a result, pastures and livestock are in very-poor-to-good condition. Winter wheat is in very-poor-to-good condition. The entire area is at high risk for wildfires.

WEST CENTRAL: Unseasonably warm weather was ushered out by a cold front that brought freezing temperatures through the weekend. Soil moisture remains very low. Cotton production continues without problems. Producers continue supplemental feeding of livestock.

CENTRAL: Rain fell over the weekend, but more is needed. Much of the fall-planted grains has now emerged. Supplemental feeding continues. Hay supplies most likely will run out in March. Water supplies for livestock are still a concern, as are wildfires.

SOUTHEAST: A couple days of rain sparked favorable for plant growth, though conditions were windy and cool. Ryegrass has not begun to grow.

SOUTHWEST: Older cabbage fields have little visible damage because of the cold front. Young cabbage shows more injury, and may have some quality problems when plants in those fields mature in 30-40 days. Some onion plants likely were killed, and leaf dieback is commonly seen. Most fresh market spinach fields had minor superficial injury, and harvest continued.

However, some fields of spinach grown for the processing industry were cut, and the product dumped because quality was hurt. Spinach is often cut two or three times in a season. With the injured leaves out of the way, growers now hope for some quick regrowth. Potato plants were just emerging in Frio County when the freeze occurred, and injury was minor. Irrigation continues in preparation for corn planting.

COASTAL BEND: No measurable precipitation was received. Drought and fire hazard continue. Some corn was planted but only in isolated locations. Most farmers are waiting on rain before planting. Ranchers are still supplemental feeding livestock as very little forage is available.

SOUTH: Soil moisture is very short. Harvest continues on sugarcane, citrus and vegetables such as cabbage and spinach. Land preparation and some planting is underway for spring row crops, but persisting severe drought conditions are straining producer's plans. There was a limited amount of moisture. Irrigation on all crops continues. Decreased hay yields have caused some ranchers to liquidate cattle herds.

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