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Texas Agriculture: It’s a mixed bag
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Where soil moisture levels improved, some farmers were sprigging Bermuda grass to rebuild pastures damaged by last year’s drought. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo by Vanessa Corriher)

Texas Business reports: COLLEGE STATION – Many parts of the state continued to receive heavy rains, bringing them completely out of the drought.

Other areas were not so fortunate, said a Texas AgriLife Extension Service expert.

“It’s a mixed bag,” said Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension agronomist and a member of the Governor’s Drought Preparedness Council. “Central and eastern Texas are in pretty good shape. Southern and western Texas and the High Plains are very short.”

The better news — even for the areas that remain in severe or exceptional drought — is there’s a good chance overall conditions could improve soon, Miller said.

“The projection is that the La Niña phase is weakening, and should phase out in April or May,” he said.

Though La Niña is predicted to phase out a little earlier than the one last year, the projections for this summer are for higher-than-normal temperatures and a little below-normal precipitation, he said.

Miller noted that the Blacklands, East and Central Texas regions are in much better shape than last year.

“The Blacklands look great!” Miller said. “We got wheat across the Blacklands that is as good as I’ve seen in 10 years, and it also is good across the eastern parts of the Rolling Plains, down to Abilene and that area. San Angelo looks good too.”

The bad news is Far West Texas, where they have had almost no rain, he said. Much of the South Plains are also very moisture deficit, as are parts of the western Rolling Plains. The outlook for crops in those areas remains poor.

“They had a rain or two in the past week, depending upon where you were, but they remain in bad need of more moisture in the soil profile for the upcoming planting season,” he said.

There was enough rain south of Victoria to raise soil-moisture levels enough to plant, Miller said. Most of the crops in that area are in, and farmers are currently planting cotton, but all crops will need more rain soon to be successful.

“Last year, it was not a mixed bag,” he said. “It was uniformly bad across the state.”

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

Central: The weather was mild and soil-moisture levels were good. Bermuda grass pastures began to green up. Lakes and ponds were nearly full thanks to recent rains. Winter grasses, wheat and rye continued to provide good grazing for livestock. Peach trees were in full bloom and pecan trees were budding. In some areas, ranchers were pulling fat cattle off winter pastures until conditions dried out. In other counties, fences along creek bottoms and rivers were washed away. Some corn will have to be replanted due to the heavy rains. Wheat maturity ranged from the boot to flowering stages. There were a few reports of armyworms. Most grain sorghum was not yet planted. Beef producers were cutting oat and ryegrass hay.

Coastal Bend: High winds stressed newly emerged crops, and the warm, sunny weather dried out soils and allowed row crop farmers and hay harvesters back into fields. Soil-moisture levels ranged from low to surplus. Corn planting was delayed in a few areas due to excessive moisture, but most areas were already planted and emergence was very good. Some cotton, grain sorghum and soybeans were also planted. Pond and lake levels improved, with some containments filled. Rangeland and pasture conditions improved. However, cool-season annual forbs and weeds remained the dominant species. Ample supplies of rye and clover hay were expected this year. Cattle numbers were significantly lower than last year, and producers were still providing some supplemental feed to remaining livestock due to overgrazing pressure during the drought.

East: As much as 6 inches of rain fell across the region. Many lakes, ponds and other bodies of water were full. Warm temperatures and recent moisture helped forages to green up and grow. Some producers cut cool-season grasses for hay to make room for warm-season forages coming out of dormancy. Weeds spread very rapidly, and many producers started spraying herbicides. The calving season was ongoing. Feral hog damage was reported in low areas and creek bottoms. Armyworms, lice and flies were also a problem.

Far West: The weather was warm and breezy, with highs in the upper 60s and 70s, and lows were in the 40s. Crane County reported a 0.5 inch of rain. A fast-moving storm swept through Pecos County and dropped pea- to marble-sized hail. Cool-season annual weeds continued to grow, and new grass was beginning to grow in burnt areas from last year. In Andrews County, Bermuda grass fields were greening up, but days were still too short to promote much growth. In El Paso County, fall-planted onions were at the four-leaf stage. Chili planting was under way in Hudspeth County. Ranchers were providing supplemental feed to herds, with most herds in the middle of calving season. In Andrews County, reports of cows and heifers affected by mesquite-bean toxicity dropped significantly. In Ward County, more cattle were shipped off due to feed costs and no hay.

North: Soil-moisture levels were adequate to surplus after 2 to 4 inches of rain. Pasture and rangeland were in fair to excellent condition. An estimated 60 percent of the region’s total corn acreage was planted before heavy rains came last week. Depending upon the county, 30 percent to 75 percent of planted corn had emerged. Producers were ready to plant grain sorghum, sunflowers and soybeans but were held back by wet conditions. Wheat was in good to excellent condition and was 10 to 100 percent headed. Small grains and winter pastures continued to do well, but cattle ranchers may pull cattle off winter pastures until conditions dry out. Livestock were in good condition and improving. Most stock ponds were full. Spring armyworms, eastern tent caterpillars and flies were reported. Feral hogs were still a problem.

Panhandle: The region was windy with above-average temperatures. Most counties received some much-needed moisture. Soil-moisture levels varied from adequate to very short, with most reporting very short to short. Wheat was in fair to very poor condition, with most counties reporting poor. Farmers continued to prepare for spring planting. Rangeland was in good to very poor condition, with most counties still reporting very poor to poor. Weeds were beginning to be a problem in rangeland and pastures. Ranchers were still providing supplemental feed for cattle.

South Plains: Parts of the region received from 0.25 to more than 1 inch of rain. Temperatures were warm and spring-like, with a few cold, wet days. Pasture and rangeland showed some response to the moisture, but much more was needed. Winter wheat improved but also needed more rain. Field preparations for spring planting along with pre-watering was ongoing. Livestock producers were still providing supplemental feed for cattle, which were in mostly fair to good condition.

Rolling Plains: Rain came again to the region, and some western counties reported 1 inch to 2 inches. Winter wheat was in excellent condition, and some producers were considering harvesting it as hay to replenish supplies exhausted during the drought. Other wheat producers hoped to get near-average yields thanks to recent rains. Others continued to graze cattle on winter wheat to allow pastures to recover from over-grazing and lack of moisture during the drought. Pastures greened up as wild rye and grasses took off, but producers were wary of grazing cattle on them too soon. Weed control in pastures was expected to be a top management priority this year. Some Bermuda-grass sprigging was being done where soil moisture allowed. Most cattle were on winter wheat and in good condition. Cattle numbers remained low in some counties, but some producers were beginning to rebuild herds. Crop farmers were optimistic after the rains, and were planning to take equipment into fields as soon as conditions dried out.

South: Thunderstorms brought more than 2 inches of rain to some areas. With the rain and warmer temperatures, rangeland and pastures greatly improved in many areas. Soil moisture levels were mostly adequate to short throughout most of the region. Cattle body-condition scores continued to improve. Corn planting wrapped up in the Atascosa County area, but continued in the Frio County area. Also in Frio County, potatoes were flowering, and wheat and oats were heading. In Zavala County, there was no reported damage to standing wheat crops after strong winds and pounding rain. Also in that county, cabbage harvesting resumed after fields dried out, as did cotton planting. Onions, corn and sorghum continued to do well there. Starr County hay producers were actively baling.

Southeast: Warm-season grasses greened up with some growth seen. Heavy rains swelled creeks and streams, causing flooding in some areas. Most ponds were full. Rice planted earlier looked good. Pasture conditions continued to improve with the recent rains. The condition of livestock continued to improve as grazing in pastures became better.

Southwest: Storms brought rain, high winds, hail and one tornado to the Devine area. Most counties received rain. Amounts varied from as little as 0.5 inch, with reports of 2 to 6 inches being more common. No major flooding was reported. Creeks and streams were running. The Frio and Sabinal rivers rose 2 to 3 feet. However, the Nueces River remained dry. There were no reports of damage to crops or livestock in those counties that had hailstorms. The lambing and kidding season continued. Cattle bloat from excess clover consumption continued to be an issue for livestock producers. Field crops were planted and had emerged after the rains.

West Central: The weather was very warm with cool nights. Most areas reported scattered showers. Soil-moisture levels were good. Wheat conditions continued to improve. Most wheat was in the boot stage. There were some reports of aphids and rust in wheat fields. Some producers planned to harvest wheat for hay soon. Cotton producers were spraying for weeds. Field preparation for spring planting was nearly done. Rangeland and pastures were rapidly improving with warm temperatures and recent rains. Cool-season grasses and weeds continued to grow. Weeds were a concern for some livestock producers. Most stock tanks were full. Supplemental feeding of livestock decreased due to good grazing conditions. Pecan trees were budding.