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Rain greens up winter crops and slows herd reductions
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In some parts of the state, December and January rains meant winter pastures that were planted on time could already be grazed, but most producers were still having to feed hay. (Texas AgriLife Research photo by Monte Rouquette)

 Texas Business reports: COLLEGE STATION – Many areas received rain, but the general consensus from weekly reports by Texas AgriLife Extension Service county agents was that more is needed to keep wheat and winter pastures going.

The U.S. Drought Monitor backs up these observations. As of Jan. 3, the monitor still showed nearly 70 percent of the state as being under severe to extreme drought. However, this is an improvement over the situation at the beginning of October when 97 percent of the state was under severe to extreme drought.

The areas that have seen the most relief are the Panhandle and the central and northeast parts of the state, but even these areas remain mostly under moderate drought conditions.

Still, producers who have seen a lessening of the drought are grateful for the moisture and are capitalizing on it, according to AgriLife Extension agents.

“The winter wheat crop has had a good shot in the arm with the recent moisture events, but it is a long time to spring,” said Rick Auckerman, AgriLife Extension agent for Deaf Smith County in the western Panhandle. “There is much discussion on what to plant for this spring: reduced corn acres and making up the acreage with cotton or possibly grain sorghum with the extended forecast being short on rainfall. Pastures for the stocker cattle are in very short supply, leaving cattlemen to supplement with hay or silage if possible.”

“Winter wheat is trying to hold on, but more moisture is needed. Heavy supplemental feeding is being done on remaining cattle herds,” said Kevin Brendle, AgriLife Extension agent for Dickens County, east of Lubbock. “Lots of producers sold most of their cattle in the summer.”

“Wow! What a difference a little rain makes,” said Philip Shackelford, AgriLife Extension agent for Austin County, west of Houston. “Since the beginning of December, Austin County has collected over 6 inches of rain countywide and more is expected through the end of Jan. 9. Cool-season grasses have really responded to mild temperatures and good soil moisture, while winter legume fields are looking very good and most cattle producers have turned in on them to graze. The sell-off and total liquidation of many cattle herds has come to an abrupt halt as ranchers take a wait-and-see attitude before selling.”

“Conditions are still dry, despite recent rainfall over the past two weeks,” said Randy Reeves, AgriLife Extension agent for Harrison County, north of Longview. “Winter pasture, as well as volunteer ryegrass, was making good to excellent growth with the mild temperatures. Cattle are in fair to good condition, and purchased hay as well as supplements continued to be fed.”

“The county received about 0.25 inches of rain earlier this week,” said Ron Holcomb, AgriLife Extension agent for Liberty County, northeast of Houston. “We are still behind, but every little bit helps. There has been some winter pasture that was planted in late November and early December that emerged and is growing with the recent small rains. There is a slower herd reduction with the recent rains.”

“Recent slow rains improved forage growth and greened up pastures,” said George Gonzales, AgriLife Extension agent for Webb County, Laredo. “Unfortunately, colder soil temperatures have not allowed for much forage regrowth at this time. Supplemental feeding is about the same with hay, molasses tubs and range cubes being used.”

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

Central: Winter wheat and oats and cool-season grasses responded well to recent moisture. Runoff from the rains helped to partially fill some stock tanks and ponds. Livestock producers, however, were still heavily supplementing cattle due to lack of grazing. Volunteer ryegrass was in higher abundance than expected, possibly due to lack of competition from short warm-season grasses.

Coastal Bend: Conditions in the northern and lower portions of the region varied because of recently received rainfall. In the northern counties, cool-season grasses responded well to mild temperatures and better soil moisture. In the southern counties, there was little rain and no substantial changes in conditions. Some producers were applying fertilizer to cropland. Cattlemen were grazing livestock on winter legumes which have improved where there was rain. Livestock producers continued to provide supplemental feed for cattle on pasture.

East: Recent rains helped to improve soil-moisture levels, but more was needed. Stock ponds and creek levels rose. Some winter pastures that were planted on time could already be grazed, but producers were still looking for hay to buy. Feral hog activity increased.

North: The new year was off to a good start with short to adequate soil moisture and seasonal temperatures. With the December rains, and with the past two weeks of dry weather and sunshine, winter annual pastures were doing well. It was dry enough the first week of January to allow some cattle ranchers to turn cattle into winter pastures. Also, as subsoil moisture was recharged, fields were in good enough condition to plant row crops. Many stock ponds were still low, but some were filled completely by December rains. Livestock were in fair to good condition.

Panhandle: Soil moisture continued to be mostly short to very short. The cotton harvest was almost complete. Winter wheat was in excellent to very poor condition, with most reporting poor to very poor. Producers were tilling fields in preparation for planting crops. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to very poor condition, with most reporting very poor. Livestock producers continued to provide supplemental feed for cattle on pasture.

Rolling Plains: The cotton harvest was nearly finished, and producers were preparing land for spring planting. Winter wheat was holding on, but more moisture was needed. Some producers reported there was still a small amount of soil moisture present, but that it wasn’t deep enough. Counties that have received moisture and mild temperatures reported good wheat development and grazing. Ranchers were grazing cattle on winter wheat in hopes of not having to further cull herds and put weight back on cattle lost due to 2011 drought conditions. One rancher said he had been feeding supplements nonstop for more than a year now. Pastures were in fair condition, with rye coming on, but producers were worried as to how long it will withstand dry weather. Water-use restrictions were still being enforced in the cities of Chillicothe and Quanah in Hardeman County. The restrictions will continue until the Greenbelt Reservoir at Clarendon receives enough runoff to raise levels.

South: Producers throughout the region were still waiting for enough rain to improve soil moisture, rangeland, pastures and crop production. Soil moisture levels in all but two counties were short to very short. In Atascosa and McMullen counties, levels were 50 percent to 60 percent adequate. Daytime temperatures were mild with cool nights. The cooler nighttime temperatures brought forage growth to a standstill, and many livestock producers still had to supply hay, range cubes and other supplemental feed to cattle. Hay was in short supply in many counties and prices continued to increase. Body condition scores on some cattle herds declined due to cold-weather stress, but most remained in fair shape. Frio County producers began field preparations. No field activity was reported in the eastern counties. Maverick County reported some winter crop emergence. Cameron County producers continued irrigating fields already prepared for spring planting. In Starr County, fall onions were progressing well.

South Plains: Recent rains and snows improved topsoil moisture, but most counties needed more to fill the profile. All but a few cotton fields were harvested. Some producers were listing fields in preparation for spring planting and cutting stalks. Rangeland and pastures improved, but cool-season grasses needed more moisture. Winter wheat continued to suffer from the drought despite the recent moisture. Livestock producers continued to provide supplemental feed for cattle.

Southeast: Some areas received light rain, greening up winter pastures, but more moisture was needed. Most ponds and lakes remained low. Mild temperatures along with the rain maintained cool-season forages, particularly those planted in late November to early December. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding of cattle, but herd reductions slowed after the rains. Many producers were still buying hay if they could find it — in one instance from as far away as Kentucky.

Southwest: Moisture from recent rains was already drying up. Earlier pasture green-up turned brown with lack of continued rainfall and freezing temperatures. With little or no standing crop of native grasses, livestock producers continued to provide heavy supplemental feed for cattle. Some larger ranches sold off more cattle due to projections of continued drought.

West Central: The region had unseasonably warm temperatures with cool nights. Most counties remained dry, but a few had a little precipitation early in the week. The winter wheat crop continued to do well. Some producers were plowing fields for spring plantings. Where moisture was received, pasture and rangeland conditions improved as winter annuals greened up. Livestock producers continued heavy supplemental feeding of cattle. The pecan harvest was winding down with very disappointing yields reported.