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Good forage grows ‘bittersweet’ situation for ranchers
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In Cooke County, as in many parts of Texas, farmers took advantage of warm weather and plentiful cool-season grass growth to replenish depleted hay supplies. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo by Wayne Becker)

Texas Business reports:  COLLEGE STATION – Many livestock producers continue to make hay while the sun shines, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service reports.

With rains and warmer-than-average weather, cool-season grasses and small grains continued to show rapid growth, according to the reports. Producers throughout the state were taking advantage of the situation to bale as much as they could and rebuild hay supplies depleted in the 2011 drought.

Moreover, with the warm weather pushing maturity of warm-season grasses, producers in his area may be able to start haying Bermuda grass and coastal as much as a couple of weeks early, said Rick Maxwell, AgriLife Extension agent for Collin County, northeast of Dallas.

But it’s sort of a “bittersweet” situation, Maxwell said, for as welcome as the hay is, most producers wish they had enough cattle to take advantage of the greatly improved grazing. As did many in other parts of the state, Collin County producers were forced to drastically reduce cattle herd or sell out completely in some cases.

“It’s going to be really difficult to buy back in (the cattle market) because of the short supply,” he said. “The demand is there, which means prices are high. It probably will be this way for quite some time.”

AgriLife Extension agents from other parts of the state had similar reports.

“The (dryland) winter wheat crop is growing as if it is being irrigated,” said Rick Auckerman, AgriLife Extension agent for Deaf Smith County, west of Amarillo. “A large majority of the wheat crop this year is going for silage or hay, with little going to grain, with the exception of the seed-wheat going to the various seed men in the area.”

In other areas, where warm-season grasses were beginning to come on and were in need of fertilizer, the outlook was not so rosy.

“Nitrogen fertilizer prices are going through the roof,” said Clint Perkins, AgriLife Extension agent for Wood County, about 100 miles east of Dallas. “Urea is pushing $800 per ton and ammonium nitrate is in very short supply — if you can get it. Hay producers are very worried.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for the 12 Texas districts:

Central:Wheat and oats began to head out and mature with the warmer weather. Winter grasses continued to provide good grazing. Producers were baling oat and wheat hay. Pasture weeds flourished, and farmers were spraying herbicides. Strong winds, tornadoes and related weather caused a large percentage of wheat to lay over, but some fields soon recovered. Corn was growing well, although heavy rains have washed out some fields. Most crops were two to three weeks ahead of schedule in terms of maturity. Some cotton had already emerged. Warm-season grasses were growing well. Pecans were in good condition.

Coastal Bend: Pasture conditions improved dramatically thanks to lots of moisture and sunshine. Some counties reported an excellent first cutting of hay. Wheat was looking great for this year. Some areas were reporting heavy rains and flooding. Except for sesame, planting of most crops was completed. High winds stressed young crop seedlings. Pastures were improving and livestock were in good condition.

East: The weather remained favorable for grass growth, but little rain was received. Some producers continued to harvest cool-season grasses for hay. Also, by cutting cool-season species, they hoped to make room for warm-season grasses to get a head start on hay season. There was planting of grasses such as Jiggs and Tifton 85 Bermuda grass. Fertilizer was extremely expensive and in short supply.

Far West: The highs were in the upper 80s, with lows in the lower 50s. Many counties, including Glasscock and Brewster, had scattered thunderstorms that brought some moisture. However, much more moisture was needed. In Andrews County, pecan producers were fertilizing and spraying zinc. Producers with irrigation were cutting and baling small grains for hay and alfalfa. Mesquite and pecan trees began to green up. Most livestock producers were in the middle of spring branding.

North: Frequent spring rains brought soil-moisture levels up to 90 to 100 percent adequate. Most corn planting was finished, with from 80 to 100 percent emerged. A small percentage of the total acres planned for corn were not planted because of wet field conditions. Most farmers expected to plant these lost corn acres to grain sorghum. Wheat, oats and winter-annual pasture grasses continued to do well with the rain and warm temperatures. Most small grains were headed out. Some producers were cutting early season hay between rains. After the drought of 2011, producers were trying to put up as much hay as early as possible. Livestock were in fair to good condition.

Panhandle: Most of the region received rain and high winds, with hail falling in some areas. Rain amounts ranged from a trace to 4 inches. Soil moisture continued to be very short to short in most areas. Wheat was in very poor to excellent condition, with most counties reporting poor to fair. Farmers continued preparing fields for spring planting. Rangeland and pasture conditions improved, as did the condition of cattle in response.

Rolling Plains: Very scattered light showers fell in the eastern parts of the region, but it remained very dry in the western counties. Fields were listed in preparation for cotton planting. Cotton farmers were pre-watering and hoping for rain as soil moisture remained marginal for planting. As farmers continued to prepare fields, they found that although there was some soil moisture, it was not enough to plant. Pastures were in good shape as grasses began to come out and wild rye continued to flourish. Livestock were in good shape, and ranchers were able stop providing supplemental feed for the first time in more than a year. Flies and insects were a major nuisance for livestock. Producers continued to harvest winter wheat as hay to replenish depleted supplies. However, some wheat was nearly headed out, and some of the poorer fields were being “disastered-out” by crop insurance companies. Many trees and shrubs died out or were damaged severely during the 2011 drought.

South: Hot and windy weather throughout the region dried out soils. Most counties reported short to very short soil-moisture levels. The exceptions were McMullen and Maverick counties, where soil moisture was 60 to 70 percent adequate. Rangeland and pastures remained in good to fair condition, which provided good grazing for livestock and improved cattle body-condition scores. Producers were able to reduce supplemental feeding of livestock to a minimum. In La Salle County, ranchers were rebuilding herds. In Atascosa and Frio counties, corn, sorghum and potatoes were progressing well, and farmers were baling oats for hay. In Zavala County, producers were actively irrigating corn, cotton and sorghum. Also in that area, the cabbage harvest continued, cotton planting was completed, sorghum and corn crops showed good progress, and watermelon transplants were established and responding well to irrigation. Hay baling continued in Starr County.

South Plains: A cold front brought storms and pea- to grapefruit-sized hail. Rainfall varied from 0.1 inch to 1.5 inches. More moisture was needed for planting crops. Producers were pre-watering where irrigation was available. Winter wheat was mostly a loss due to drought conditions. Pasture and rangeland improved somewhat with recent showers. Livestock were in fair to good condition with continued supplemental feeding.

Southeast: Field crops were off to a good start, but more moisture was needed. Pasture conditions improved dramatically with moisture and sunshine. Farmers began taking the first hay cutting and reported excellent yields. Wheat looked great for this time of year. In Liberty County, more rain helped crops already planted. Cattle were in better condition with the improved pasture conditions. There was very little supplemental feeding of livestock needed.

Southwest: Warmer weather dried up soil moisture brought by recent rains. Pasture grasses were in good quality, with livestock greatly benefiting from improved grazing. Warm-weather crops emerged.

West Central: The region continued to have hot, dry, windy days with mild nights. A few areas reported scattered showers, but the warm, windy weather resulted in significant soil-moisture losses. Warmer-than-normal weather put wheat and oat maturity ahead of schedule. Farmers were harvesting wheat and oats as hay. Much of both crops were also being grazed out. Farmers were also busy preparing for spring planting, spraying for weeds and applying fertilizer. Some were planting sorghum. The condition of rangeland and pastures improved as warm-season grasses came out of dormancy. Pecans started the year in good conditions with good catkin (flowering spike) growth.