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Agriculture Today

Irrigation wells pumping air; dryland survives in some areas

Irrigation wells pumping air; dryland survives in some areas
As the drought worsened and aquifers dropped, irrigators struggled to keep up with their crops’ moisture demands.

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July 20, 2011
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One of the worst droughts in the state’s history deepened, with nearly 98 percent of the state in one stage of drought or another, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

More than 90 percent of the state was suffering from extreme to exceptional drought, according to the monitor’s most recent report on July 5.

In many areas, irrigators were experiencing severe drawdown of aquifers -- pumping only air in some cases. Producers in other regions were abandoning corn in order to have enough water to save cotton.

In most parts of the state, dryland crops have completely failed, but there were a few success stories, though they may only seem like wins by comparison to the rest of the state, said Dr. Dan Fromme, Texas AgriLife Extension Service agronomist for the Coastal Bend area.

Nearly all the corn, grain sorghum, and cotton crops in the Coastal Bend area are dryland, according to Fromme. Though most of the region is classified as being under extreme drought, farmers there had the advantage of getting 4 to 6 inches of rain in January.

“We went into planting season with either a full-soil profile (of moisture) or maybe a little less, and that went a long way,” he said. “And the couple of inches of rain we received in May helped immensely.”

Grain sorghum and cotton comprise the vast majority of crops grown in the region, Fromme said. Grain sorghum has already been harvested, with yields averaging about 3,000 pounds per acre, compared to average yields of 3,500 to 4,000 pounds.

Cotton growers were either harvesting or preparing to harvest by July 12, he said. He expected yields to be about three-quarters of a bale per acre, which is about 65 to 70 percent of the long-term average.

“So, yes, compared to the rest of the state, we are a little bit better off,” he said.

Of more concern are long-range forecasts for the region, Fromme said.

“It’s not too promising in the future here,” he said. “From all the reports I’ve read for the upcoming fall, winter, and spring, we could still be on the dry side, and I don’t know what we’re going to do next year if that happens.”

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Coastal Bend District, including Karnes County, said the region had above-average temperatures with no significant rainfall. Pasture and rangeland conditions remained very poor. Livestock producers continued to provide supplemental feed to cattle. Most ponds were very low or dry. The grain sorghum harvest was ongoing, and cotton growers applied defoliants to some early-planted fields in preparation for harvest. Cotton was maturing very early because of the dry conditions and high heat. Forage and hay production was minimal.

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Southwest District, including Wilson, Gonzales, Guadalupe, and Bexar counties, reported slight improvements in the agricultural situation from earlier scattered rains were rapidly dissipating. Overall, the region remained very dry and under wildfire alerts. However, the National Weather Service had forecasted a gradual turnaround. The sorghum and sunflower harvests were nearly completed with lower-than-average yields. The low yields were economically offset by excellent market prices. The grape harvest began three weeks early due to heat and drought stresses. Peanuts, cotton, pecans, and landscape nursery crops continued to make good progress where irrigation water was still available. The watermelon, cantaloupe, and sweet corn harvests were ongoing. Forage availability remained well below average for this time of the year. Ranchers continued to provide supplemental feed.

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

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