What is in this article?:
- Parmer County, Texas, remains dry.
- Even with irrigation, making a crop under these prolonged drought conditions is an onerous undertaking.
- The combination of grain sorghum and no-till is a good option for this area.
OLD CROP RESIDUES HELPS hold
moisture and prevent wind erosion
on Wade Schueler’s cropland.
Schueler is turning to no-till or
strip-till to limit erosion and
On the cusp of planting time in Parmer County, Texas, the assumption that conditions are better than they were a year ago may be met with more than a bit of skepticism. This area, on the far side of the Texas Panhandle, jutting up against the New Mexico state line, remains dry.
What little rain that has fallen since the historic drought of 2011 has been rapidly wicked away by high winds. It’s dusty except where center pivot irrigation systems are running to pre-water fields in preparation for milo, corn or cotton or to try to push winter wheat far enough to at least make a decent cover crop.
Farmers say the infrequent rains received since last fall came in small doses—measured in tenths of an inch—and did little more than provide momentary hope that the drought was broken. But it hangs on.
And so do farmers.
“We’ve had very little rain for the past 18 to 20 months,” says Wade Schueler, 34. “I’m not sure we’re better off than we were this time last year. I don’t know how long it would take to get moisture levels back up.”
He knows it will take more than sporadic quarter-to-half-inch rains to recharge the soil profile. He also knows that the 30-mile per hour winds that seem to come on the heels of those short showers leave little for the soil. “We just can’t seem to get any rain,” he says.
Even with irrigation, making a crop under these prolonged drought conditions is an onerous undertaking.
Schueler will go back to planting some corn this spring after planting none last year, a decision that may have raised a few eyebrows early on with corn prices at near historic levels but turned out to be a wise choice. “Last year was the first time I did not plant corn,” Schueler says. “That was one of the biggest blessings ever—even with high prices. Conditions got so dry that not planting corn was a good idea. We didn’t have enough water to grow corn.”
He planted grain sorghum and says that it “suffered some but made a good crop”—good enough to earn top honors in the state grain sorghum yield contest in the no-till, irrigated category.
He believes the combination of grain sorghum and no-till is a good option for this area. “I like to leave as much crop residue as I can,” he says. “A lot more farmers are turning to no-till.”
He likes to no-till grain sorghum into wheat stubble. “That worked great last year,” he says.
Drought conditions limited winter wheat survival this year, so he’ll have to change tactics. “I will strip-till into a wheat cover crop,” he says. “I’ll also break out some CRP land and strip-till into grass.”