What a difference a year makes. Or just a few timely rains.

Glen Ritchie, assistant professor of crop physiology at Texas Tech University, with joint appointment with Texas AgriLife Research, Department of Plant and Soil Science, says the Texas South Plains is in a lot better shape than at this time in 2011.

Ritchie says a look at the West Texas Mesonet shows rain totals have ranged anywhere from 2 inches to 8inches, and even more further south toward San Angelo.

He also expects improved conditions to continue with forecasts calling for less of a La Niña pattern than last year, which should increase the summer rainfall amounts over what fell last year.

“As it pertains to crop production for this year, the rain we’ve had means we’re under less pressure to irrigate early on in the season,” Ritchie says. “For crops like cotton and sorghum, we’re in pretty good shape going into the season, assuming we get seasonable weather from this point forward. Corn is typically a higher user of water, so we have less of a buffer for corn than we do for some of these other crops.”

He says the region is not out of the woods, or the drought, yet.

“Soil can only hold a certain amount of water, so if we get too much, we’ll either have run-off or deep percolation through the soil. So no matter how much we get, we’re going to be limited to how much is actually available to the crop.”

Farmers will need in-season rainfall to make a decent crop. “Places that have had 6 inches of water or more are going to be able to get the crop to flowering stage, then we’re going to need more in order to carry through the season.”

Summer rains will be crucial. “Essentially, late June throughout July is going to be the best time to receive more rain, but any moisture we get on irrigated crops will take some of the burden off irrigation systems, which are made to supplement rainfall.”