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Need winter grazing? Dust it in.
Need winter grazing? Dust it in.   | colsta_bry_txbz, George Philley,

East Texas farmer George Philley struggles to get a planter off a wagon in preparation for seeding winter pasture.

Texas Business reports:  COLLEGE STATION – Need winter grazing but there’s not enough soil moisture to plant? A Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert said “dusting it in” is worth the risk.

“Dusting in” refers to planting when there is not enough soil moisture present to get the crop emerged, but with hope of receiving a rain later.

“If they want winter pasture, then I’d go ahead and make that gamble,” said Dr. Larry Redmon, AgriLife Extension state forage specialist, College Station.

Typical recommendations are to plant small grains for early winter grazing six to eight weeks before the first frost.

“If you’re looking at Central and South Texas, we’re still in good shape as far as the planting date,” Redmon said. “If we’re in the Rolling Plains or the Panhandle, we should have already planted, but it’s not too late.”

An El Niño currently developing in the tropical Pacific promises a cool and wet winter for Texas, according to Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist and regents professor at Texas A&M University.

However, the El Niño has yet to deliver on that promise to large parts of the state, particularly the Far West, Panhandle and Rolling Plains, making planting winter pastures chancy, Redmon said.

But hay supplies remain short or non-existent in some areas, and according to reports from AgriLife Extension county agents, many producers are going ahead and taking the chance that more rain will come.

Redmon noted winter pasture demands good management, including sufficient fertilization. They also must take the winter grass off in time in the spring for warm-season grasses to develop.

“If they didn’t get it off in time (last year), they further injured warm-season grasses already damaged by the drought,”he said. “We had a lot of warm-season grass stands that were actually destroyed because of lack of management. Some producers are a little bit gun-shy because of that.”

Extension reporters compiled the following summaries for the state’s 12 districts:  

Central: Without any rain recently, it was too dry to plant winter pastures, but many producers planted anyway, hoping to get more moisture soon. Irrigated peanuts and cotton looked good. Some pecan varieties may be ready to harvest in two to three weeks. Pecan quality was expected to range from low to high. Many producers had both water and grass shortages again. Some early winter wheat emerged. Hay producers in some areas hoped for one more cutting. Cotton was in good condition. Producers were spraying for armyworms. Pastures had not fully recovered from last year’s drought, but livestock were in good condition.

Coastal Bend: Producers planted oats and wheat for winter grazing in some areas. Pastures remained poor where there has been low rainfall. The pecan crop showed promise as harvest neared. Livestock producers still had to supplement cattle with protein and hay as grazing was very short.

East: The region had cooler temperatures, with 1 inch to 5 inches of rain. Only Marion and Trinity counties reported no rain. Producers continued harvesting hay in preparation for winter feeding. Many producers were preparing to plant small grains for winter pasture. Armyworm damage to pastures and hay fields was reported. Cattle sales in some counties remained low, most likely because ranchers were holding on to replacements as the forage outlook improved. Feral hog damage reports increased. Pecan tree limb breakage from heavy nut loads continued.

Far West: Highs were in the mid- to upper 90s and lows in the upper 60s, with several counties receiving rain. Crane County reported 0.5 to 1 inch. Presidio County reported a slow rain, from 0.5 inch to 1.5 inches. Grass in Presidio County was headed out and curing, with spotty patches of green pastures and some browning. Ward County rangeland and pasture conditions were similar, with some greening and growth, but generally, most of the county’s forages were still behind average. Pecan growers were irrigating orchards, hoping to aid nut-fill. The chili harvest was ongoing in Pecos County. In Glasscock County, most dryland cotton had opened bolls, but was dying. Winter wheat and oats were in abundance in Reeves County.

North: Soil-moisture levels were short in most counties. Producers were preparing fields for winter-wheat planting, which should begin about mid-October and last through early November. Hay supplies were good as producers took the last cutting for this season. Pecans looked good. Livestock were in fair to good condition.

Panhandle: Temperatures were above average, with soil-moisture levels mostly very short to short. The corn harvest was ongoing. Cotton was in very poor to good condition, with most counties reporting fair. Producers continued planting winter wheat. Some earlier plantings were already emerged and under irrigation as producers hoped to use the resulting grazing for stocker cattle. Cattle were in fair to good condition. Insect activity was light except for fall armyworms in late-planted corn and grain sorghum.

Rolling Plains: Producers throughout the district were planting winter wheat, with some plantings already making good stands. Much will be grazed, but with cattle numbers at an all-time low, some may be harvested as hay. Temperatures were in the mid-80s, which was pleasant, but some cotton needed more heat units to finish. Other areas began destroying cotton fields in compliance with insurance claims. Irrigated cotton may produce average yields. Pastures greened up in the last three weeks. However, pastures will not fully recover from the drought this year because of cooler temperatures and shorter days. In Wichita County, commercial pecan growers began harvesting early varieties. There were reports of high quality and yields on the Pawnee pecan variety. Most pecan varieties were a few weeks away from shuck split. An extremely heavy crop is expected this year. Parker County reported pecans there could use another rain.

South: Soil-moisture levels ranged from short to adequate in the northern parts of the region. Most eastern counties reported very short soil moisture conditions, except Frio County, where they were 100 percent adequate. Western and southern counties reported short to very short soil moisture conditions, except for Zavala and Willacy counties. Rangeland and pastures have greened up in counties that received 1 inch to 7 inches of rain last week, which included Atascosa, La Salle, McMullen, Brooks, Duval and Jim Wells counties. Western counties only received light showers and drizzling rain with the exception of Zavala County, where better rains over the past few weeks slightly improved forages. Peanuts continued to develop well in the Frio County area, with producers preparing fields for planting next season’s crops. Pecan production in that area was good and with very low insect pressure. In Zavala County, dryland oat and wheat producers were able to plant, thanks to rain. Also in that area, cabbage progressed, though some producers were battling excessive weed-growth caused by heavy rains. Also in Zavala County, spinach and onion producers were preparing seedbeds, and cotton gins were running at full capacity. Land preparations and vegetable planting continued in Cameron and Hidalgo counties.

South Plains: Only two counties reported rain. Floyd County had scattered showers, with some areas getting 0.75 inch. Garza County got from 0.4 to more than 1 inch in some areas. Some cotton was defoliated, and harvesting was expected to begin soon. Peanuts and grain sorghum were maturing. Where there was enough soil moisture, winter wheat was being planted. Rangeland and pastures improved where rain was received during the last two weeks. Livestock were in fair to good condition.

Southeast: Some areas had light showers, and winter pasture was emerging as a result. Jefferson County got 0.5 inch to 1.5 inches. Other areas remained hot and dry. Cattle were holding their weight, and calves were growing. The Brazoria County cotton harvest continued, with yields ranging from two to three bales per acre. Hay-harvesters were active most of the week. Orange County reported good hay production.

Southwest: Recent rains improved existing pastures and benefited the fall plantings of legumes, oats and ryegrass for winter pastures. Most cotton was harvested and on the way to the gins. Good yields were reported. Ranchers were taking their last cutting of hay for the year. The pecan harvest was ongoing.

West Central: Days were warm and nights cool, with many areas getting rain. The recent rains improved soil-moisture levels and enabled producers to start planting winter crops. Hay fields, as well as rangeland and pasture conditions, were improved by the rains. Cool-season grasses and forbs were growing. Cotton growers began to defoliate fields. Some cotton fields were released to insurance claims and shredded. Most cotton producers who irrigate stopped pumping to allow the crop to mature. Hay producers continued harvesting. Livestock remained in fair to good condition, but ranchers had to increase supplemental feeding as grazing was still short. Stock-tank levels continued to drop despite rains. Irrigated pecans looked good, with the harvesting of early maturing varieties beginning.