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Agriculture Today

Panhandle irrigators plan for ongoing 2012 drought

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Robert Burns
September 26, 2012 | 3,206 views | Post a comment

COLLEGE STATION -- All parts of the state received rain Sept. 11-18, with many areas getting 2 to 3 inches, and isolated areas getting more than 5 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Large parts of the Panhandle and the Rolling Plains areas received 1 inch to 1.5 inches. Even the Far West received rain, with large pockets getting 1 inch to 1.5 inches or more, but most areas getting a trace to 0.5 inch, according to the weather service.

Though the rains were welcome and helped crops, soil-moisture levels in many western parts of the state remained short or very short, according to this week’s reports by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county agents. And some areas still remained far behind in rainfall for the year.

In the Panhandle, the drought is causing big changes in the way farmers -- especially those who irrigate -- manage water and cropping rotations, said Nich Kenny, AgriLife Extension irrigation specialist, Amarillo.

Despite the recent rains, the Panhandle remains about 7 inches behind for the year, he said.

Kenny said that during the last two years, irrigators have pumped as much water as they typically pump in three growing seasons, which has caused Ogallala Aquifer levels to further declines.

The Ogallala Aquifer stretches across eight states, from Texas through Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming, Kenny said. It supplies about 30 percent of the nation’s groundwater for irrigation, and drinking water for many communities, and its decline is dictating big changes for irrigated agriculture.

“To maintain the sustainability of agriculture in the region -- especially irrigated agriculture -- they know they’re going to have to look at different crop rotations, look at splitting fields, incorporating more cotton, more sorghum, more winter wheat, into typical corn-cropping patterns,” he said.

“The idea that they can rely on so much rainfall, and always bank on it, has become a bit of a fallacy. They’ve had enough crop damage and real risk from drought that they’re just managing differently.”

Kenny also noted that modern center pivot and drip irrigation systems are approaching 100 percent efficiency, which means sustainability is going to have to come from different water and crop management systems.

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for Sept. 10-17:

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Southwest District, including Wilson, Gonzales, Guadalupe, and Bexar counties, reported the region received widespread, much-needed rain, with accumulations from 0.25 inch to 5 inches. Cooler temperatures accompanied the rain. Winter perennials were expected to improve because of the rain. However, surface water remained very low. Medina Lake, a major source of irrigation, was at 13 percent capacity. The cotton harvest was nearly complete, and some wheat and oats were being planted. Fall corn made good progress.

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Coastal Bend District, including Karnes County, reported the region received much-needed rain, which halted fieldwork, including cotton-stalk destruction. Producers completely finished harvesting grain sorghum. Producers were also preparing fields for the next growing season. About 5 percent of the first rice crop was yet to be harvested. Those with earlier-planted rice expected to get a ratoon crop. Rangeland and pastures were improved by recent rains. However, more rain was needed.

Robert Burns has nearly 30 years’ experience writing about agriculture and agricultural-related research. He writes about Texas AgriLife Research and Texas AgriLife Extension Service activities at the Overton Center and centers in Stephenville and Temple.

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