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Rain accompanies unseasonably warm spring temperatures
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With soil moisture boosted by frequent rains, and above-average temperatures bringing warm-season grasses out of dormancy, many producers were already fertilizing pastures. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo by Robert Burns)

Texas Business reports:  COLLEGE STATION—Rain continued to push back the Texas drought, with most of the northeastern, central, southeastern and eastern parts of the state either out of the drought or merely abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor status report last week. 

But as much as 67 percent of the state remained under one stage of drought or another, according to the monitor.

All of the state remained unseasonably warm, according to this week’s reports by Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel. The above-average temperatures were a mixed blessing. The warm days quickened the maturing of wheat and brought warm-season grasses out of dormancy early in some areas. In other regions that were not so fortunate to receive frequent rains, the warm weather further dried out soils.

 “(Last month) ended as the second-warmest March on record for Lubbock, with the last freezing low recorded on March 4,” said Mark Brown, AgriLife Extension agent for Lubbock County, Lubbock.

“Soil moisture content is adequate as farmers continue to bed fields, getting ready to plant cotton,” said Ryan Martin, AgriLife Extension agent for Motley County, southeast of Amarillo. “Although conditions are a complete turn around from this time last year, Motley County producers are still worried that the rains could stop at any time.”

“With above-normal temperatures combined with rapid spring green-up, soil moisture is being rapidly depleted,” said Steve Estes, AgriLife Extension agent for Jones County, west of Fort Worth. “Drought effects still linger around the county. About 50 percent or more of livestock ponds are still at extremely low levels. Wheat is on the fast track of maturing, while some acreage is being harvested for hay.”

“Warm weather and some rain has given wheat a big boost,” said Jerry Warren, AgriLife Extension agent for Callahan County, east of Abilene. “Weeds are going to be a problem in some wheat fields — unless they’re grazed out. Some producers are considering buying back cattle that were sold during last year’s drought. They are cautiously optimistic.”

“Good rains recently filled all tanks,” said Lyle Zoeller, AgriLife Extension agent for Coryell County, south of Fort Worth. “All range and pastures are very green and good. Oats and wheat are the best in Coryell County in the last 15 years, and much is being cut for hay.”

“Pastures and hay fields are greening up and growing with adequate moisture and warm temperatures,” said Mark Currie, AgriLife Extension agent for Polk County, north of Houston. “Many producers are beginning to fertilize hay fields in hopes of making as much hay as possible early while moisture is good.”

Agrilife reporters compiled the following summaries for the 12 extension districts:

Central: Soil temperatures remained in the low 60s. Winter grasses continued to provide good forage. Bermuda grasses were greening up. Small grains were in excellent condition, with many producers cutting them for hay. As a result of the warmer weather, winter wheat and oats began to head out and mature ahead of schedule. There were some reports of leaf rust in wheat. Producers were applying fungicides. Most corn planting was finished, with many fields beginning to merge. Pecan trees started putting on new leaves.

Coastal Bend: The region received more rain on March 29, with light hail damage in some areas. Corn planting was mostly completed, while cotton planting was in full swing. In some areas, wet conditions held up planting. Rangeland and pastures continued to be dominated by cool-season forbs. Many producers were spraying herbicides to control the weeds and allow grasses room to respond. Producers in some areas continue to report problems with cattle bloating on pastures where there was lush growth of volunteer clover. Ponds were full, with some reports of excessive algae growth.

East: The region continued to have warmer-than-average temperatures. Warm-season grasses made good growth. Producers baled winter forages, fertilized pastures and sprayed for weeds. Landowners were restocking farm ponds. Reports of feral hog activity continued. Tent caterpillars were reported in some areas.

Far West: Highs were in the mid to upper 80s. Lows were in the mid to upper 50s. Pecos County received about 0.4 inch of rain. Presidio County had 0.2 inch. No other counties reported measurable moisture. Mesquite and pecan trees broke dormancy. Pecan producers were fertilizing orchards and preparing to apply zinc. Cotton farmers continued to pre-water fields. Pastures along the Pecos River showed some grasses and forbs in the early growth stages while the rest of the rangeland in Pecos County remained dormant. Hay growers took first cuttings of alfalfa, and were preparing to cut other irrigated fields. Ranchers continued to supplement cattle with hay and feed. In Upton County, the lambing and kidding season continued.

North: After more rain, soil-moisture levels were adequate to surplus. The added moisture and warm temperatures resulted in spring grasses and small grains/winter annuals doing very well. Row crops were also doing well. Corn planting was about 75 to 80 percent completed, with farmers not being able yet to get into fields that did not drain as well as others well. Grain sorghum planting was expected to begin very soon. Wheat was in excellent shape before the rains. Rye grass was heading out in some areas. Producers were preparing to start baling hay soon. There were a few reports of armyworm moths and wheat rust.

Panhandle: The region had unseasonably warm weather. Soil-moisture levels were from adequate to very short, with most counties reporting short. Wheat was rapidly growing thanks to warmer weather, irrigation and recent rains. Ratings of wheat varied from excellent to very poor, with most areas reporting fair to poor. Farmers continued preparing for spring planting. Rangeland and pastures were very poor to fair condition, with most reporting very poor to poor. Cattle grazing on wheat made excellent gains. However, most cattle on rangeland still required supplemental feeding.

Rolling Plains: Last year in April, many counties were fighting the first of many wildfires. This year everything is green and pretty. Pastures and rangeland were in good to excellent condition as wild rye and grasses got off to a good start. Stock tanks in some counties were full, while in others more rain was needed to get livestock through the upcoming hot, dry months. Livestock were in good condition. With cattle prices high, some producers were waiting to restock herds. Farmers were scouting wheat regularly. There were some reports of rust, insects and, possibly, barley yellow dwarf virus. Some producers already harvested wheat as hay. Others were planting grain sorghum and preparing to plant cotton.

South: Most counties reported adequate soil-moisture levels. The exception was Hidalgo County, where soil moisture was rated short to very short. Many counties reported rain, from as little as 0.5 inch in parts of Jim Wells County to as much as 8.5 inches in McMullen County. Many areas reported as much as 2 inches. The rains significantly improved rangeland and pastures. Unfortunately, in some areas such as Duval County, there were not enough livestock to graze new-growth forage due to previous selloffs. In Atascosa County, corn was progressing well, and forage sorghum planting was ongoing. In Frio County, wheat and oats were turning color and in the heading stage. In Jim Wells County, the potential for good wheat yields increased after the rains. In Zavala County, oats and wheat were in excellent condition as a result of rain. Also in that area, cabbage harvesting continued, spinach harvesting was completed, cotton planting was very active, and corn, onions and sorghum progressed well under irrigation.

South Plains: Temperatures were in the upper 80s and low 90s. These above-average temperatures, along with limited rainfall, further stressed dryland wheat. Some producers were cutting irrigated wheat and letting it cure for hay. Rangeland conditions slightly improved with the recent rains, but additional moisture was needed for recovery and forage growth. Livestock were in mostly fair to good condition and slowly improving. Ranchers were able to reduce supplemental feeding of cattle.

Southeast: In Montgomery County, after light showers, winter annuals were heading out and warm-season grasses showed some growth. In Burleson County, heavy rains caused flooding in low-lying areas. In Brazoria County, rice, grain sorghum and cotton plantings were all well behind schedule due to wet conditions. Weekly showers with rainfall amounts anywhere for 1 inch to 3 inches did not allow row crop farmers to get into fields. Hay could not be harvested due to wet conditions. However, grazing in that area was fair to good, with excellent growth of ryegrass and clovers. In Liberty County, there were reports of some smut on wheat due to the wet weather, but there were no reports of insect damage. The condition of cattle improved as pastures greened up, and some hay was cut.

Southwest: Showers brought further drought relief to pastures and rangeland. However, Uvalde County continued to remain in Stage II water restrictions. The condition of livestock was improving. Spring planting was in full swing. Farmers were fertilizing and spraying for weeds throughout the district.

West Central: Soil moisture was rapidly dropping because of above-average temperatures, high winds and lack of rain. Wheat was in good condition and quickly maturing. Some farmers were harvesting wheat for hay. Rust in wheat continued to be reported but was under control. Producers were spraying for weeds, applying pre-emergent and fertilizers and preparing to plant haygrazer. Rangeland and pasture conditions continued to improve. Cool-season grasses and vegetation continued to green up. Warm-season grasses broke dormancy. Weeds in pastures were growing very aggressively. Livestock were in good condition; producers were slowly rebuilding herds. Many producers were able to quit providing supplemental feed except extra protein, and only that in some cases. Cattle losses due to bloat from small grains and winter annuals continued to be reported in some areas. Mesquite was leafing out and pecan trees budding.