Ranchers, Farmers Cautiously Optimistic about Rains (Posted By Gary Cutrer)

Heavy rains in Central and East Texas and soaking rains in West Texas fell the last two days. Some occasional showers and light but soaking rains have occurred since the first of the year with the latest rains doing a lot of good in West Texas and actually causing some minor flash flooding in the San Antonio and Austin areas.

Farmers are watching the skies closely in preparation for the upcoming planting season. Ranchers are thankful to have any moisture at all across grazing lands in Texas, even though much of the livestock inhabiting those pastures has been sold off.

Winter weeds are emerging and providing feed for goats and sheep still left out there. Winter wheat pastures are surviving now that  the rain has come. This year is already an improvement over the tinder dry conditions of 2011 when spring winds whipped up a record number of wildfires across Texas.

With the prognostication that La Nina will continue to influence the weather of the Southwestern U.S. in the dry direction, ag producers are crossing their fingers that those predictions are wrong and that the occasional rains will continue.

Here’s the Texas AgriLife Crop and Weather report for Feb. 14, before the most recent soaking rains swept West and Central Texas:

COLLEGE STATION – Mother Nature sent many Texas farmers an early Valentine’s Day card in the form of rain the last week.

According to reports from Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel, there were notable exceptions, but many parts of the state received moisture, further improving pastures and rangeland, and raising soil moisture levels for spring planting.

Two-minute MP3 audio Texas crop, weather report for Feb. 14, 2012

According to AgriLife Extension county agents, the exceptions were western counties of the Rolling Plains district and large parts of the Panhandle, where soil moisture levels remained mostly short to very short. Far West Texas received some rain, but not nearly enough to improve drought- and fire-damaged pastures. Most areas were still providing supplemental feed to livestock.

The question is, should producers, particularly livestock producers, be optimistic?

“I think they have reason to be optimistic, but it’s dangerous to be overly optimistic,” said Ron Gill, AgriLife Extension livestock specialist, College Station. “Yes, we have improvement in soil moisture, but the problem we haven’t gotten over is the deterioration in pasture and range conditions we experienced last summer and fall.”

Even with a wet spring, it’s likely to be a long time before pastures and rangeland show full recovery, Gill said. Recovery of introduced warm-season pastures will depend upon many things beside just rainfall. The extent of the drought or wildfire damage, the cost of fertilizer and stocking rates, both past and present, are all factors, according to Gill.

Another factor has to do with how the pastures and rangeland were managed. Many pastures were stocked to capacity, and producers had to cut back on fertilizer use prior to the drought because of cost. Because prices for cattle were so high, many people tried to not downsize their herds, which led to further deterioration of forage conditions, he said.

“If people can afford to apply adequate fertilizer, the pastures will recover fairly early this spring,” Gill said. “If we continue to get rain, and they don’t fertilize, and are still overstocked, then they’ll continue to deteriorate forage conditions.”

Gill said there’s been a lot of conjecture about what the proper land-management strategy is at this time, but most producers are being cautious, knowing that their pastures are knocked back and worried about the cost of replacements.

“I haven’t seen many people jumping out there and trying to restock yet,” he said. “Unless they de-stocked early in the process and conserved some forage, and managed their pastures right — then they may have the ability to start adding cattle back pretty quickly.”

Even then, if they jump back into production, and the rainfall patterns don’t hold,
they could find themselves stuck with some high-priced replacement cattle needing costly hay.

“The situation warrants being careful at this time,” he said.

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/ .

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for Feb. 6-14.

Map of the 12 Texas AgriLife Extension Service districts.
The 12 Texas AgriLife Extension Service districts.

Central:Soil-moisture levels remained good. Most stock tanks and lakes were full from recent rains. Winter wheat and grasses were providing good grazing. Small grains looked good. Oats were beginning to joint in some fields. Cattle looked great as the winter weather promoted excellent growth of rangeland cool-season annual grasses and forbs. Producers were preparing to plant sunflowers as early as next week if fields dry out.

Coastal Bend: Most areas received from 1 inch to 6 inches of rain. The runoff filled many livestock tanks and continued to improve rangeland and pasture conditions. However, it was noted that a great deal more moisture would be needed to recover from the drought. Livestock producers were still supplementing cattle with hay and protein. Farmers were preparing equipment for spring planting.

East: Most of the region received scattered showers. With recent rains, ponds and other bodies of water were filling up. Winter pastures looked good and were growing well. However, producers continued to buy out-of-state hay. The calving season was ongoing. Farmers increased field preparations. Feral hog damage reports continued to come in.

Far West: Only trace amounts of moisture were reported except in Val Verde County, which reported very cold weather with mixed snow, sleet and 0.5 to 0.7 inch of rain on Feb. 12. Daytime highs ranged from the mid 30s to low 70s, with lows in the 20s. Winter forbs greened up, but the growth was not nearly enough to provide grazing for livestock. There were some dry winter grasses in some areas, but most pastures remained dormant. Producers were preparing fields for cotton planting, doing pre-watering and laying out rows. Reports leveled off of cattle being affected by over-consumption of mesquite beans. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued. The calving season began. Presidio County reported hay supplies to be critical. Lambing and kidding season began.

North: Mild weather following recent rains improved small grains and winter annual pastures. Many farmers and ranchers were debating whether to apply fertilizer. Topsoil moisture was good. Corn producers were readying to prepare fields for planting later this month and into March. Most stock tanks were recharged to good levels by the recent rains. Producers were optimistic about the chances of more rain. Some producers who had moved cattle to out-of-state grazing, brought them home this week. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Hogs continued to be a problem.

Panhandle: Temperatures were near to slightly above normal for most of the week, then dropped to below normal by week’s end. A few areas reported receiving some moisture late in the week. Soil-moisture levels varied from adequate to very short, with most reporting short to very short. Winter wheat was in good to very poor condition, with most reporting poor condition. Rangeland and pastures were in mostly poor to very poor condition. Livestock producers were still providing supplemental feed to cattle.

Rolling Plains: The western part of the region remained dry after several missed chances of rain. Winter wheat needed some measurable precipitation as it was due to come out dormancy this month. Without rain, there will be reduced grain yields and grazing potential. Pastures and rangeland were in poor condition with very little grazing left. Producers worried that 2012 might be a repeat of the 2011 drought. Fortunately, eastern counties reported that recent rains left rangeland and pasture in good condition. Wheat continued to make good progress. Stock water tanks were full.

South: Conditions in northern counties improved somewhat. Winter weeds grew as the result of scattered showers last week, which supplied some livestock grazing. In Atascosa and La Salle counties soil moisture was adequate, but remained short in the rest of the region. A substantial rain was still needed to fill livestock tanks. Supplemental feed for cattle was still greatly needed as many ranchers’ hay stocks were short, and prices continued to rise. In Atascosa County, corn producers were preparing land for planting. Potatoes emerged in the Frio County area. There were no field activities reported in the eastern part of the region. In Zavala County, dryland wheat and oats were mostly in good to fair condition, the cooler weather was favorable to spinach and onions, and cabbage harvesting was very active, and corn and sorghum producers were preparing for planting. Although field activity was minimal in that area, producers took advantage of the moisture in some areas to apply fertilizer. In Hidalgo and Starr counties, citrus, sugarcane and vegetable harvesting was put on hold by light rains. Willacy County reported a delay on the planting of sorghum in that area also due to rain.

South Plains: Most counties received a little moisture, either as rain or snow or both. Southern counties received rain last week and most counties received a rain/snow mix on Feb. 12. However, topsoil remained very dry and much more moisture is needed to make an impact. Pasture and rangeland were in fair to poor condition. Winter wheat was still suffering from drought. The recent rain and snow was expected to help producers begin field preparations for the spring.

Southeast: Daytime highs were in the 60s; nighttime lows in the upper 30s to low 40s. Many counties reported rain, from 1 inch to 2 inches in some cases. Winter annuals in pastures showed good growth with warm temperatures, though winter weeds were a big problem. Ponds and stock tank water levels improved. Armyworms were reported in oat and ryegrass pastures. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding of cattle. Field preparations for spring planting were delayed due to the rain.

Southwest: Continued mild temperatures and showers raised soil-moisture levels. The body condition of many cattle improved as result of a flush of winter grasses. Farmers continued planting corn and grain sorghum.

West Central: Days were warm and nights cool. Some areas reported light showers, which continue to improve wheat, barley and oats. Cotton producers began spraying for winter weeds and applying some pre-emergent herbicides. There was also an increase in plowing and other preparations for spring planting. Rangeland and pasture conditions also continued to improve, with winter weeds and grasses showing green-up after recent rains and warm days. There was heavy grazing pressure on wheat and oat fields. Livestock producers were still providing supplemental feed to cattle, but most were going through the winter with smaller herds due to the drought and the high cost of hay.

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