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Agriculture Today

As much as 64 percent of state suffers drought conditions

As much as 64 percent of state suffers drought conditions
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Drought Monitor Maps from the U.S. Drought Monitor show most of the state is abnormally dry, with 64 percent suffering either severe or extreme drought conditions. According to the monitor’s website, the analysis “represents a consensus of federal and academic scientists.”

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April 13, 2011
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The drought continued to expand in Texas, stunting crop growth, delaying planting, and putting additional stress on livestock producers, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel. As of March 22, the U.S. Drought Monitor ranked 29 percent of Texas as being under an extreme drought, and more than another 30 percent as being under severe drought. Overall, according to the monitor, 98 percent of the state is abnormally dry.

At this point, there are going to have be some very significant rains to make a difference in the crop situation, said Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension program leader and associate department head of the soil and crop sciences department, College Station.

“We measure drought over a three-month period, a six-month period, a year, and so on,” Miller said. “When you get a long-term deficit, it really takes a pretty good rain to move the needle and put you back into a normal situation.”

All crops have been affected by the drought, including irrigated ones, but wheat is the one that’s suffering the most right now, he said.

There’s been a lot of corn, sorghum, and some cotton going into the ground on “pretty marginal moisture” in South Texas, Central Texas, and North Texas, Miller said. Dry planting is risky even during normal times. But during a drought, farmers risk losing seed and other production costs if the planting is not followed soon by rain.

For cotton farmers, this risk has been magnified by recent advances in plant technology, Miller said. Most of the cotton seed used today is transgenetic and may cost $100 or more an acre -- as much as ten times what it cost in the late 1990s.

“So farmers are really reluctant to dry-seed -- and I would be so myself -- with what a bag of cotton seed costs,” Miller said.

As for wheat, there have been numerous reports from AgriLife Extension county agents the crop is maturing too early, but this is a result of the warmer-than-normal temperatures and moisture stress, he said. Irrigated wheat is in better shape, but of the approximately 6 million acres of wheat grown in Texas, only about 1 million acres are under irrigation.

But very high wheat prices, higher than have been seen for years, mean there is a real incentive to irrigate wheat despite high pumping costs, he said.

“By irrigated, it means they can put water on it at some time during the crop’s growing season,” Miller said. “It doesn’t mean they have all the water they need to finish the crop. And they may need that (limited) amount of water to pre-irrigate other crops such as corn and cotton.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Southwest District, including Wilson, Gonzales, Guadalupe, and Bexar counties, reported thunderstorms brought 1 inch to 2 inches of rain to parts of Bandera and Blanco counties, but the rest of the region remained very dry. High, dry winds continued to aggravate the drought and increase the number of roadside fires. Only very few small patches of bluebonnets, which are normally abundant at this time of the year, have appeared. The incidence of motor vehicle and wildlife collisions along roadsides continued to increase. Irrigated corn, sorghum, and cotton fields made good progress. Rain will be needed very soon to allow dryland crops to progress. Most pastures and rangeland showed some signs of green but most remained dormant due to the dry spell. Forage availability was below average.

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Coastal Bend District, including Karnes County, reported the region had above-normal temperatures but no rain. As topsoil moisture dried out, some farmers stopped planting cotton and were waiting on a rain before resuming. Some cotton was replanted because of poor emergence after a rain two weeks ago. Rangeland and pastures needed rain as well. Forage was becoming more available but was slow to respond due to the dry conditions. Livestock producers were still feeding some hay to make up for the lack of grazing.

Compiled from Texas A&M University and Texas AgriLife Extension Service reports.

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