Rains brought on a spring flush of cool-season grasses in many areas, providing lush grazing for livestock. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo by Steve Byrns)
Texas Business reports: COLLEGE STATION—Though large areas of Texas still remain stricken, the number of counties under drought conditions continued to shrink, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service reports and the U.S. Drought Monitor.
From Interstate 45 to the east, most counties were either completely out of the drought or merely abnormally dry. Though most of the counties to the west of I-45 remained under drought, only about 25 percent were rated as being in severe or exceptional drought.
The weekly report from Washington County, northeast of Houston, is a good example of those coming from many counties. The county lies on the borderline of the areas fully recovered from drought and those still dry.
To the east, most counties are out of the drought, said Larry Pierce, AgriLife Extension agent for Washington County. To the west, many areas are still suffering, including parts of Washington County. Though stock ponds were filled, deep soil moisture remained short, reflecting conditions in many parts of the state.
As in many counties, with lush growth brought on by recent rains, producers continued to bale a great deal of cool-season grasses for hay, Pierce said. Though the hay is certainly welcome – many Washington County producers didn’t harvest any hay in 2011 – the flush of growth is holding back warm-season grasses, including Bermuda grass, Bahia grass and native species.
“Because of the high volume of ryegrass and clovers that we had that volunteered on many of our pastures because (other) grasses were so short, it was an excellent season for the cool-season grasses to take an upper hand,” he said.
Because of the suppression, it’s too early to see how much damage warm-season grasses suffered from the 2011 drought, he said.
Pierce said he expects to see some thinning of improved Bermuda grass stands from the drought. He doesn’t expect bluestem grasses to be affected however, as they are typically drought tolerant.
“Producers tell me they are seeing quite a bit of damage and just lack of response of growth of Bahia grass, which I find surprising,” he said. “They feel like Bahia grass took a really big hit.”
Pierce believes the damage assessment on Bahia grass may be a little premature as it is usually thought of as being a “survivor.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for the state’s 12 extension districts for April 19- 23:
Central: Days were warm and nights cool. Most oats and wheat were being harvested as silage or hay. There was stripe rust reported in some wheat; otherwise, area growing conditions remained good. Winter grasses and wheat were supplying grazing for livestock. Hay producers were fertilizing fields. Weeds were a problem in rangeland and cropland. Cattle were in excellent condition because the spring green-up started early and continued to be lush. Livestock producers were putting out bulls as the spring breeding season started. Armyworms were reported. Corn and milo were quickly growing with the warmer temperatures. Warm-season grasses greened up.
Coastal Bend: Rain and damaging high winds were received late in the week. Cotton planting neared completion in most areas. Some crops remained very moisture-stressed; some cotton seedlings were dying. Farmers were fertilizing and cultivating crops. Wheat matured and was doing better than expected. Rangeland and pastures improved, and many producers were close to taking a hay cutting. Many were already harvesting oats, ryegrass and clover for hay. Warm-season grasses such as Bermuda, bluestem, and Bahia grass were greening up. Pecan growers were spraying for pecan nut case-bearer.
East: The region had seasonally mild temperatures and 1 inch to 2 inches of rain. Hay baling was in full swing. Producers were planting new hay fields and pasture grasses. High fertilizer prices hampered hay and pasture management. Some producers were restocking herds. Fireblight damaged pear trees. Insects were reported on trees and ornamental plants.
Far West: The region had highs in the mid-to-upper 80s and lows in the mid-to-upper 50s. Most of the area remained dry, with the exception of Brewster County, which reported very limited showers. Also, in that county, AgriLife Extension personnel noted most of the cattle left were in poor to barely acceptable condition, and many will be shipped unless adequate rainfall is received. In Presidio County, no rain and windy conditions raised the danger of wildfire. Howard County reported that cotton farmers were ready to plant but were waiting for a good rain. In Glasscock County, growers finished planting watermelons. In El Paso County, fall-planted onions began to bulb, and alfalfa was growing. Terrell County remained under a burn ban. Throughout the region, producers still had to provide supplemental feed for cattle.
North: Most areas reported some rain, though typically 0.5 inch or less. Soil moisture was adequate to surplus. Temperatures remained mild from mid to late week, and field work resumed after the showers. Wheat and oats were fully headed out and continued to look very good. Corn planting was complete, with most fields emerged. Some farmers were starting to plant grain sorghum and soybeans where corn could not be planted in time because of earlier wet conditions. With lush pastures, livestock were doing very well. Stock ponds were full. Stable flies were on the increase and the mosquito population was exploding, plus there were reports of armyworms.
Panhandle: The region was dry and windy. Soil moisture continued to be very short to short. Wheat varied from very poor to excellent condition, with most counties reporting poor to fair. Producers continued to irrigate wheat and prepare fields for spring planting. Corn planting began in a few counties. Rangeland and pasture conditions were improving. Cattle were in good condition.
Rolling Plains: Rain fell “hit and miss” across the region, with accumulations ranging from 0.3 to 1 inch in some counties. Although the rain was welcomed, much more was needed in most areas. Pastures were in good shape, but ranchers worried that it was just a matter of time before forages started to play out. In some areas, producers were bailing the last of the winter wheat crop. There was enough winter rain so that wheat hay yields were good, which allowed ranchers to replenish hay supplies. But without more rains, they may have to supply supplemental feed year-round like last year. Livestock were in good condition coming off winter wheat and going back on pastures. Flies and insects were becoming a nuisance. Alfalfa growers took their first cutting, and yields were fair. Producers were listing cotton fields and pre-watering in preparation for planting. Peanut producers expected to begin planting very soon. In Wichita County, plants were stripped, tree leaves damaged and carports and patios littered by cutworms.
South Plains: Parts of the region received scattered, light rain. Days were warm and windy, with a few fast-moving cold fronts but no major storms. Producers were pre-watering and doing field preparation for spring planting. Sunflower growers were planting, and wheat was either being irrigated for grain or cut for hay. Pastures improved slightly with recent showers, but more rain was needed. Cattle were in fair to good condition, with some ranchers still providing supplemental feed. Nowhere seemed to be safe from caterpillar infestation, including tomatoes in the AgriLife Extension variety trials in Burkburnett, which were completed devoured in three days. Commercial fruit and vegetable growers had an abundant strawberry crop. The peach crop looked good.
South: Soil moisture was short to adequate throughout the region. In the northern counties, crop conditions were fair to good, with producers increasing irrigation. Potatoes and corn looked good, even those planted as dryland crops. Hay cutting and baling is taking place. Wheat was headed out, and its harvest was expected to begin soon. Rangeland and pasture conditions declined as soil-moisture levels dropped and daytime temperatures increased. Beef cattle remained in good condition. The eastern part of the district remained dry, and hot, windy conditions created harsh conditions for crops, pasture and rangeland. In the western part of the district, a good rain was needed to replenish stock tanks, but soil-moisture levels remained high, which benefited grass growth. Wheat and oats were in excellent condition and were rapidly maturing. However, lack of rain prompted onion, corn, cotton, sorghum and cabbage producers to irrigate early in the season. Forage availability was mostly fair but without rain could deteriorate quickly. Watermelon development was slowed by unseasonable cold conditions. The onion harvest started this week in early planted fields. The southernmost part of the district reported favorable conditions. There was ample moisture from scattered showers and some significant rains. High winds dried out some areas, with farmers irrigating cotton, grain and corn. The sugarcane harvest was completed, and the harvesting of onions and tomatoes was ongoing. Preparation for the melon harvest was under way. Livestock were in good condition.
Southeast: Pasture conditions continued to improve. Crop conditions were generally rated as fair. In some cases, row crops were not doing as well as hoped due to wet conditions. In Liberty County, sugarcane borer moths were found in traps. Livestock were doing well at this point.
Southwest: Pastures declined from lack of rain. Streams and rivers were already low going into summer. It was evident that many trees will not recover from last year’s drought. In addition to live oaks and other oak trees dying, there was a die-off of cedar trees as well. Sutton County reported some cool-season vegetation was beginning to mature and turn brown. Cattle, sheep and goat prices were high in Uvalde County where producers were trying to restock. Gillespie County reported some restocking, but high prices and lack of rain in the last 30 days slowed the process. Most producers in Kendall County have not restocked because of poor pasture conditions. Cotton planting was nearly finished in Guadalupe County. Corn and milo still looked good. Wheat in Hays County also looked good.
West Central: Very warm, windy weather took a toll on soil moisture. Conditions continued to decline in all areas. Producers were spraying herbicides to control weeds and preparing fields for cotton planting. Others were harvesting wheat and oats for hay. Most of both crops were being either grazed out or baled instead of being harvested for grain. Some summer forage crops were being planted. Rangeland and pasture conditions started to decline because of lack of rain for the last few weeks. Weeds continued to be a large problem on pasture and rangeland. Livestock remained in good condition. Pecans looked good, and producers were spraying orchards with zinc.