What is in this article?:
- Concern over no rain and only one irrigation has Valley farmers at a standstill
- Mexico's water debt
- Rio Grande Valley farmers face tough decision.
- “Without substantial rainfall in the spring and summer our crops won’t thrive under those restrictions.”
- Commodity crop farmers are especially concerned about putting seed in the ground after being put on notice that irrigation water will likely be limited.
It wasn’t too many years ago that the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) of Texas was an agricultural paradise. The first area-wide irrigation system was constructed in 1898, an engineering masterpiece, and it served as the foundation for the development of major agricultural operations across the region.
In the years that followed the region became well known for its abundant citrus and cotton production, and before long vegetable production spread across the Valley as well. Grain sorghum and sugar cane in more recent years have become popular crop choices, helping to sustain the area as a major agricultural production region even in modern times.
But this year, after two years of serious drought and other adverse water developments, several of the many irrigation districts that service the region have put farmers on notice that unless rains replenish diminishing reservoir levels soon, there will only be enough water to provide one irrigation application to commercial crops.
“The situation varies among the irrigation districts in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, but the larger districts have already advised farmers they will be limited to only one irrigation this season,” said Brad Cowan, Texas AgriLife Agriculture Extension agent in Hidalgo County. “Without substantial rainfall in the spring and summer our crops won’t thrive under those restrictions.”
While February and March are traditional planting times for cotton and grain sorghum, Cowan says commodity crop farmers are especially concerned about putting seed in the ground after being put on notice that irrigation water will likely be limited.
“It doesn’t matter if you are farming a citrus grove, a cotton field or are growing onions, being limited to just one irrigation isn’t encouraging if you are hoping for a good crop this year,” he added. “And it’s not just the farmers that are concerned. Several municipalities have been alerted that in two months they may not get all the water they are entitled to unless we get new inflows, either from water Mexico owes the U.S. or from rainfall in our watershed.”
Cowan said a recent meeting with National Weather Service meteorologists painted a grim forecast for measureable precipitation this summer, and the spring season. He said the Valley “seems stuck” between a recent La Niña weather event—the prime culprit responsible for the two year drought—and an expected El Niño weather event that has not yet formed, “if it does at all.”