New Dust Bowl days not here yet
COLLEGE STATION -- Though it may seem like a return of Dust Bowl days to some Texas High Plains farmers and ranchers, we’re not there yet -- at least not quite, according to Dr. John Neilsen-Gammon, state climatologist in College Station.
However, the March 25 reports from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county agents do give evidence of some very difficult working conditions for producers in the Panhandle, South Plains, and Rolling Plains regions.
Mark Brown, AgriLife Extension agent for Lubbock County, reported only a trace of moisture for March with sustained high winds and gusts of 58 mph on March 18 accompanied by blowing dust.
Rick Auckerman, AgriLife Extension agent for Deaf Smith County in the western Panhandle, said wind speeds of 30 to 50 mph bore down on the county for most of the week, and producers were running out of tools to stop soil from blowing away.
Nielsen-Gammon said, “Over the past few weeks, the dust seems to be mainly picked up from southeastern Colorado and eastern New Mexico, so we’re not having a problem with widespread soil loss in Texas so far, but it’s something that could happen if conditions don’t allow for spring green-up, which they haven’t yet.”
Auckerman noted that though it may feel like a return of the Dust Bowl days as fences are being covered up by sand and dirt in Deaf Smith County, modern producers have a lot more tools to fight blows, including U.S. Department of Agriculture Conservation Reserve Program grassland.
But on much of regular farmland, there isn’t a lot of growth to hold the dirt in place, Auckerman said.
There hasn’t been green-up of grasses because December through February have been the tenth driest on record in the last ten years, Nielsen-Gammon said.
“The last time it was drier (the first quarter of the year) was in 1996,” he said.
The other issue that continues to hover is a possible battle between towns and agriculture over extremely limited reservoir levels, Nielsen-Gammon said.
“If we don’t see summer months of more than average rainfall, we will likely see conflicts between agricultural and municipal/industrial uses.”
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.