Though recent rains brought some relief to South Central Texas, the region is still plagued by “exceptional” drought and residents need help in dealing with a variety of drought-related issues, said Texas AgriLife Extension Service experts.

AgriLife Extension economists estimated that losses from drought would exceed $1 billion statewide by May without a significant change in the current weather situation. Many row-crop and beef cattle producers in South Central Texas have been among those hardest hit.

“This county’s livestock production is valued at approximately $11 million, and the demand for ways to make production more efficient during this drought is greater than ever," said Jerry Warren, AgriLife Extension agent for agriculture in Bexar County. “In this region, almost no dryland crops are being planted, and wheat yields from the area are expected to be the lowest in many years.”

Dr. Rick Machen, AgriLife Extension livestock specialist in Uvalde, said recent cattle deaths in the South Central Texas area have been related to drought, and beef cattle producers have had to reduce stocking rates to balance forage supply and demand.

“Forage availability is limited in many areas," Machen said. “And poor growing conditions and reduced nitrogen fertilization have resulted in lower-than-normal hay quality.”

Warren said to help inform area farmers and ranchers affected by the drought, AgriLife Extension has emphasized drought-related topics during its seminars and educational outreach programs.

“Our annual South Texas Beef Cattle short course in January included topics like cow herd management during drought, the economic impact of drought, drought management techniques for weed and brush control, and drought-resistant legumes for cattle feed,” he said.

Warren noted that drought and water-use issues affecting field-crop producers in Bexar, Medina and Uvalde counties were the focus of the AgriLife Extension-sponsored South Texas Irrigation Conference and Trade Show held in Hondo on Jan. 20.

“Educational sessions at the conference included crop-water usage; selection, benefits and costs of improved irrigation technologies; matching pumps to irrigation systems to reduce fuel costs; and irrigation economics and water markets,” Warren said.

He added that the upcoming Tri-County Beef Cattle Field Day on May 9 at Boysville in Converse for producers in Bexar, Guadalupe and Comal counties will address brush-control methods during drought, livestock options for small landowners, and managing beef cattle health and nutrition during drought.

“As the drought has intensified, we’ve provided more objective, practical information for the region’s farmers and ranchers to help them get through this difficult time,” he said.

David Rodriguez, AgriLife Extension agent for horticulture in Bexar County, said the agency also provides information and guidance for homeowners in this region.

“Pretty soon a lot of people are going to have to make a decision about what to do about their severely stressed or dead lawns,” he said. “A lawn is a major investment and lawn irrigation typically makes up 40 to 60 percent of a monthly water bill during peak irrigation times.”

Rodriguez said if a typical lawn in the region hasn’t “greened up” by mid-April, then it likely never will.

He added that AgriLife Extension promotes and provides free information on a variety of ways homeowners can conserve water and more efficiently maintain their lawns and gardens through better landscaping and maintenance.

Rodriguez said the agency and its volunteer Master Gardeners do much to promote and inform residents of the benefits of water-friendly techniques such as proper watering, using drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting, and using mulch and compost to help retain moisture.

“People can also conserve water by xeriscaping, which includes using native and well-adapted low-water-use plants, and through ‘hardscape’ areas such as decks, patios or walkways that reduce the overall amount of lawn.”

Rodriguez said drip irrigation alone, if properly used, can reduce the amount of water for lawns by as much as 60 percent.

“Using mulch, preferably a finely shredded organic mulch of hardwood or cedar for trees, shrubs, flower beds and new plantings, holds in moisture for much longer periods,” he said. “And applying compost as a top-dressing, especially on badly stressed and dried-up areas of lawns, also helps with moisture retention as well as fertilization.”

He also noted that the agency collaborates with the San Antonio Water System in the Seasonal Irrigation Program, which provides weekly watering recommendations for various types of turf grass found in the San Antonio metropolitan area. Program participants receive the recommendations by e-mail, and recommendations are published each Saturday in the San Antonio Express-News.

“The recommendations are based on the amount of rainfall and evapotranspiration data in relation to known requirements for specific types of turf grass,” he said.

Bryan Davis, AgriLife Extension agent for natural resources in Bexar County, added the agency also provides educational programs on more efficient water use for lawns and athletic fields.

“Our Lawn Maintenance 101 seminars and Sports Athletic Field Educational program both address how to conserve water through proper irrigation and maintenance,” Davis said.

The next Sports Athletic Field Education program will be held March 25, with the morning session at the AgriLife Extension office in Hays County, 1253 Civic Center Loop, and afternoon session at Texas State University in San Marcos, he said.

“This workshop is for homeowners as well as park, golf course and sports facility managers who want to maintain high-quality fields while conserving water through proper irrigation principles,” he said.

Davis said AgriLife Extension also will hold a Lawn Maintenance 101 seminar March 24 at the AgriLife Extension office in Bexar County, 3355 Cherry Ridge Drive, Suite 208. The seminar will focus on turf selection and management, irrigation practices, rainwater harvesting and turf pest management.

For more information on AgriLife Extension programs in Bexar County, go to http://bexar-tx.tamu.edu.

To find other AgriLife Extension offices and programs in South Central Texas, go to http://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/county.