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Many parts of Texas firecracker hot
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In late June, west of Corsicana, cotton was blooming. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo by Robert Burns)

Texas Business reports: COLLEGE STATION – Though cool by comparison to some parts of the country, much of Texas was frying going into the July 4 holiday, according to reports from Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

While parts of the Midwest and Eastern U.S. were hotter, the triple-digit temperatures throughout the state complicated chances of recovery from last year’s drought.

According to the National Weather Service, many areas only received traces of rain — 0.25 inch or less during the last week of June. There were some heavier rains along the Coastal Bend and South Texas areas. But except for a few isolated incidences of 2 to 3 inches, accumulations were generally 1 inch or less.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor for June 26, there were no areas of exceptional drought. But only a few East Texas and Coast Bend counties were spared being either abnormally dry or under moderate to severe or extreme drought conditions.

The Panhandle, South Plains and Far West regions remained the hardest hit.

 “Area producers had a decent start to this year, but these past few weeks have turned everything completely around,” reported Ryan Martin, AgriLife Extension agent for Motley County, southeast of Amarillo. “With daytime temperatures reaching 100-plus degrees, no rain and hot, dry winds, pastures and cotton fields are beginning to show the signs. Currently we are setting at close to 6 inches of moisture total for the year, which hasn’t done much to replenish the soil-moisture content. At this time it looks like the only thing that can turn our situation around would be a hurricane.”

“Extremely high temperatures and windy conditions have producers running pivots as hard as they can right now trying to keep up with water demand,” said Brad Easterling, AgriLife Extension agent for Sherman County, north of Amarillo on the Texas/Oklahoma border.

“Topsoil moisture is very depleted and rain is needed soon,” said Josh Blanek, AgriLife Extension agent for Andrews County, north of Odessa. “Producers are weaning and selling calves early to allow cows to rest and help reduce feed consumption.”

“The rains we received two weeks ago were very beneficial, but now that moisture is gone,” said Rick Maxwell, AgriLife Extension agent for Collin County, northeast of Dallas. “The last five or six days have been at 100 degrees or above.”

“Pastures and hay fields are making little growth due to hot temperatures and lack of moisture,” said Mark Currie, AgriLife Extension agent for Polk County, north of Houston. “Producers are trying to put up all the hay they can and hopefully avoid buying hay. If rains are not received soon, many will need to purchase at least some of their hay again this year.”

“Dry, hot and, at times, windy conditions persisted this week,” said Jesse Lea Schneider, AgriLife Extension agent for Presidio County, in Far West Texas. “Stifling heat with highs lingered around 100 in the mountains and were as high as 116 along the river. Pastures have now lost their green tinge and are browning.”

“Just like all over West Texas, we have been very dry and very hot,” said Anthony Munoz, AgriLife Extension agent for Schleicher County, south of San Angelo. “On Wednesday we received some sprinkles for about half an hour but just enough to settle the dust. The dryland cotton isn’t all that bad, but it sure could use a drink.”

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

Central: The heat index was extremely high with temperatures nearing 100. Stock tanks were already beginning to dry up. After several weeks of no rain in some counties, pastures were showing signs of stress, and Bermuda grass pasture stands were slow to re-establish. Grasshoppers were a major issue on Bermuda grass fields and other crops. Earlier rains helped many hay producers get good cuttings, but the hot weather slowed growth and was beginning to stress plants. Vegetables were doing well, but were also stressed by the heat. Farmers began harvesting corn. Pastures were drying out quickly. The milo looked very good, but the condition of corn varied. Sunflowers were in various stages of maturity, but some will be harvested soon. In most cases corn and grain sorghum have good to excellent yield potential. Cotton growth stage was from four true leaves to full-grown bolls, but needed rain. Many operators were harvesting silage. There was an unusual outbreak of walnut sphinx caterpillars in some native pecan orchards.

Coastal Bend: The first half of the week had temperatures above 100 degrees, with cooling showers and cloudy skies by the end of the week. Some areas received more than 3 inches of rain, but most only got a trace. Corn was beginning to dry down. In the southern part of the region, grain sorghum was being cut. Insurance adjusters were still zeroing out some fields of corn and sorghum due to lack of soil moisture. Cotton was growing well in some areas. Livestock were heat-stressed. The lack of forage forced ranchers to continue supplemental feeding. Hay was in short supply. The pecan crop looked excellent.

East: The region had little or no rain, with temperatures reaching 100 degrees some days. Pastures and hay fields were showing little regrowth as soil-moisture levels continued to drop. Producers continued to battle weeds and grasshoppers. Gardens and fruits were being harvested and marketed at roadside stands. Peanuts and cotton showed good growth. Pecans looked good with some aphid problems reported. Many towns reported increased numbers of crickets. Cattle remained in good body condition. Wildfire danger was still rated as moderate though grass was browning off.

Far West: Highs were in the low 100s, with nighttime temperatures in the upper 70s. Topsoils were drying out. Rangeland conditions were declining, with grasses browning in some areas. Trees continued to die. In Presido County, ips beetles, a type of bark beetle, were decimating pine tree stands. Cotton producers continue to irrigate. In Pecos County, the watermelon harvest began, and the cantaloupe harvest was ongoing. Also in that area, onions were doing well and some green chilies were harvested. Ranchers were weaning and selling calves early to allow cows time to rest and help reduce feed consumption. Lamb producers were preparing to ship. Presidio County livestock producers were struggling to maintain the small herds they had left by continuing to provide supplemental feeds and minerals.

North: Hot and dry weather with triple-digit temperatures continued to bake the region. Soil-moisture levels were mostly short to adequate, but in some areas were critically low. Forage growth slowed as pastures dried out. Hay crops looked very good. Grain sorghum was beginning to color. The corn harvest was expected to begin about mid-July, possibly earlier if the heat persists. Yield prospects for early planted corn and grain sorghum were excellent. Cattle were in fair to good condition, and stock watering ponds were in good shape because of rains received two weeks ago. Grasshopper populations were exploding. The populations of cicada killers and red velvet ants were higher than normal. Feral hogs continued to be a major problem. Peaches were looking very good and giving high yields.

Panhandle: The region was dry with triple-digit temperature highs. Corn was mostly in good condition. Sorghum was mostly fair to good. Cotton made good progress because of the heat and was rated mostly good to fair. The wheat harvest was nearly over. Dryland crops were beginning to show signs of stress. Producers with irrigation were hard pressed to keep up with water demands. Rangeland and pastures were in very poor to excellent condition, with most counties reporting poor. Cattle were in good condition.

Rolling Plains: Triple-digit temperatures arrived. The highest temperature reported was 111 degrees in Hardeman County. The hot, dry weather began to weaken crops. Cotton was trying to get established and start growing, but some stands were already weakened. Those cotton producers who could irrigate were, hoping water will last long enough to produce a decent crop. Producers were also irrigating grass and alfalfa fields. Pastures improved some with recent rains, but began to show some stress again as temperatures rose. Livestock producers were able to decrease supplemental feeding of cattle after earlier rains but will have to increase it without rain. Producers were weaning calves early in order to hold on to cows. Motley County reported that ranchers were in the same boat as they were last year with pastures playing out, being forced to sell off calves early and continuing to buy supplemental feed. Total herd numbers were down about 40 percent in some areas. One AgriLife Extension agent predicted that if the drought continued, there would not be a single cow in the county by the end of the summer. The peanut crop looked average. Parker County reported grasshoppers were eating anything green in some areas, and producers were spraying to control the pests. Many urban trees were dropping leaves.

South: Temperatures reached 100 to 106 degrees and above, taking a toll on rangeland, pastures and crops. The northern part of the region received light, scattered showers providing temporary relief from the heat. Soil-moisture levels were short to very short throughout most of the region. The exceptions were Willacy and Cameron counties, where they were 50 percent adequate and 100 percent adequate, respectively. Many pastures were completely brown, posing a high fire hazard. Livestock were heat-stressed, and stock-tank water levels were dropping. Cattle, however, remained in fair condition due to supplemental feeding of molasses, protein cubes and some hay. In Atascosa County, dryland crops were not doing well, but irrigated crops looked good. In Frio County, the potato harvest and peanut planting were completed, corn producers were getting ready to harvest and there was some hay cut. In Live Oak County, many crops had already been zeroed out by insurance adjusters. About 80 percent of corn in that area was in very poor condition, while 60 percent of sorghum and 40 percent of cotton were very poor. Jim Wells County producers were harvesting grains, but there were no reports of yields and quality yet. Failed milo fields in that area were being harvested for hay, and producers were requesting nitrate testing. In Kleberg and Kenedy counties, grain sorghum and cotton producers were expecting low yields. In Zavala County, cotton under irrigation progressed, the corn and sorghum harvests were ongoing, and the cabbage harvest was finished. In Cameron County, the sorghum harvest continued, corn was maturing and cotton was progressing well. In Hidalgo County, the corn, sunflower and grain harvests were continuing after brief interruption by rain. Starr County sorghum growers began harvesting, while in Willacy County the harvest was halted by rain. The rain in that area did not help the cotton that had already started to open, but some late-planted fields were still flowering and setting bolls and will benefit from the rain. Hay production was going well throughout the Rio Grande Valley area.

South Plains: The region had triple-digit temperatures and no rain. Dryland crops began to suffer. Where they had irrigation capabilities, farmers were watering full bore. Crop insurance adjusters were inspecting fields, and some hail-damaged cotton was replanted to sorghum. Irrigated cotton, sorghum and sunflowers were all right, but needed rainfall to supplement the irrigation. Rangeland and pastures were mostly fair to good condition, but also needed rainfall to continue improving. In particular, pastures burned last year by wildfire or overgrazed were beginning to show stress due to lack of rain and the excessive heat. Cattle were mostly in good condition. Flies were troubling cattle, but mosquitoes were not as numerous as expected following earlier rains.

Southeast: Parts of the region had extremely high temperatures, from 100 to 103 degrees. Light showers were reported by some counties. Crops generally remained in fair to good condition. Dry conditions continued to limit forage production, and grasshoppers were becoming a problem. Dryland corn was quickly yellowing, and cotton looked strong.

Southwest: Record-breaking temperatures were recorded throughout the region. Extreme heat and dry conditions persisted. Crops and pastures were withering. Hay harvesting came to a standstill, pastures were drying out and stock-tank levels were dropping. Sorghum growers were preparing for harvest. The sunflower harvest was ongoing. Cotton made good progress with some fields blooming out, and some just starting to set bolls.

West Central: Triple-digit temperatures and dry, windy weather continued. The extreme heat made significant changes in crop conditions. Soil-moisture levels dropped to fair or poor. The wheat harvest was completed. Cotton farmers finished planting. Some producers were cutting and baling hay. Sorghum hybrids planted for hay were struggling. Hay production was expected to be limited without rain soon. Grasshoppers continued to be an issue in some areas. Rangeland and pastures showed severe moisture stress and were declining. Stock tanks were very low in some areas. Livestock remained in fair to good condition.