A big chill came to Texas, stalling winter forage growth and stressing cattle and plant life, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.
For the most part, the cold has not been too hard on livestock as long as they've got shelter and hay, but the up-and-down temperatures have been hurting them. Much of the cold has been accompanied by moisture, either as rain or snow. The moisture has generally been good for wheat and small grains already planted, but bad for those producers who were late getting small grains planted, according to reports from AgriLife Extension offices throughout the state.
In other areas, notably South Texas, the wet weather has greatly improved the agricultural situation, stimulating cool-season forage growth and raising soil moisture levels in anticipation of spring planting.
But it's not a blessing in wetter areas, such as Trinity County , southwest of Lufkin, reported Armon Hewitt, AgriLife Extension agent.
"Cold, wet weather in Trinity County is creating an environment in which producers are having to feed hay, which is in very short supply, at an alarming rate," Hewitt said. "Thus far, the winter has been the worst we've had in many years. Hay feeding sites must be changed frequently because of the abundance of rainfall and muddy conditions."
The situation in McLennan County is also wet, and similar to that throughout much of the Central AgriLife Extension district, said Shane McLellan, AgriLife Extension agent, Waco.
"We've had an up-and-down of cold weather," McLellan said. "We had a few cold spells, then we had several days of warm weather, then back into the cold spells, with non-traditional, non-historic, arctic weather later in the week."
It's not as hard on the cattle as it has been on plant life, he said. McLennan County and the Waco area are in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's plant hardiness zone 8a. Plant hardiness zones are geographical regions defined by climate ranges.
"We can historically expect an average annual minimum temperature of between 10 and 15 degrees Fahrenheit," McLellan said. "Duration of cold, especially temperatures below freezing, can allow plant tissues to be more deeply penetrated by low temperatures. This can harm what I will refer to as plants marginal to our area such as oleander, some palms and even perennials such as lantana."
McLellan said the extent of the damage may not become apparent until March or early April when buds open. He did not expect oaks, pecans, hollies and others plants to be damaged because "they are well suited to the extremes of our area." The following summaries were compiled by AgriLife Extension district reporters:
CENTRAL: Soils remained soggy, making it difficult for farmers and ranchers to get into fields. Some wheat was not planted because of heavy rains. Some producers planted oats in place of wheat. Cold weather increased the need for beef producers to provide supplemental feed to livestock. Hay was in short supply.
COASTAL BEND: The outlook for the 2010 crop season was much improved by recent rains. However, below-normal temperatures and rain held up most field work. Producers continued supplemental feeding of livestock because standing forage was scarce due to freezing temperatures a couple of weeks earlier.
EAST: Cold temperatures across the region slowed winter forage growth to a crawl. Most counties reported from adequate to too much soil moisture. Livestock were in fair to good condition with producers providing supplemental feed. Feral hogs continued to be a problem.
FAR WEST: Pecan harvesting fell behind schedule because of a late freeze. All cotton was harvested and processed by gins. Soil moisture was very low due to high winds and cold weather.
NORTH: The soil moisture ranged from adequate to surplus. Because of cold temperatures and waterlogged fields, farming activity came to a stop. The weather hit dairy and beef producers hard. Some producers reported they lost calves. The weather necessitated livestock being fed considerably more hay and supplements than in previous winters. Hay supplies were currently holding, but a shortage was anticipated before spring. Winter wheat was still being planted over the holidays. Because of the wet conditions, only about 50 percent of the fields typically put into wheat and oats were planted. The winter pastures that were planted were in fair to good condition. Overstocking has caused some pastures to deteriorate. The pecan harvest neared completion. Cotton was in fair condition with the harvest nearing completion. Peach producers were pruning trees. Rangelands and pastures were in fair to good condition.
PANHANDLE: Weather was cold with some snow. Soil moisture levels were short with little moisture received from the snow. The cotton harvest was nearly complete, and some producers were starting to prepare fields for spring planting. Irrigated wheat was reported in good condition, and stocker cattle were put on it to graze. Dryland wheat needed moisture and producers were only allowing limited grazing on it. Cattle were in good condition, but rangeland was in poor condition. Most producers were providing supplemental feed.
ROLLING PLAINS: Winter hit hard, bringing several inches of snow and blizzard-like conditions. Two snow storms helped to replenish soil moisture levels. This moisture was needed by some of the more mature stands of winter wheat that have been grazed as well as the emerging stands. Winter wheat began to perk up after receiving some moisture, but some producers worried that it came too late. Most of the cotton has been harvested, with surprisingly good yields after a dry growing season. A few cotton modules remained in the fields. Pastures were in good condition after the snows. Cattle on pasture were doing well with ranchers providing supplemental feed.
SOUTH: Adequate soil moisture levels were reported throughout the region with the exception of one county in the western part of the region. The northern part of the region had light rain followed by cool, dry conditions. Wintery weather in the eastern part of the region limited forage production except for winter oats. However, the outlook for the 2010 crop season was much improved as a result of nearly constant rain. In the western part of the region, growers were actively harvesting both fresh-market and processing spinach. The cabbage harvest was ongoing. After irrigation, onions made good progress. The sugarcane, citrus and vegetable harvests continued in the southern part of the region. Producers were providing supplemental feed at a steady pace. Stock water tank levels remained low. Livestock remained in fair condition.
SOUTH PLAINS: From 2 inches to 8 inches of snow fell. Cold temperatures ranged from highs in the 20s and lows in the single digits. Soil moisture was short to adequate. A few cotton gins completed their 2009 season, and it was expected that the rest of the region's gins would finish processing soon. Winter wheat was in fair to good condition, and should improve thanks to the moisture from the snow. Pastures and rangelands were in fair to good condition and also should improve with the moisture. The wet and cold weather stressed livestock, but they remained in fair to good condition. Beef producers continued supplemental feeding.
SOUTHEAST: Bermuda grass pastures went dormant. Winter-annual grass growth was good thanks to plenty of moisture. Clover was emerging in many pastures. Rain continued to replenish the groundwater supply. Topsoils were saturated. Pastures were in poor condition in some area because of continued overstocking. Wet conditions continued to delay spring crop preparations. Livestock were doing well, considering the conditions. A hard freeze in Montgomery County damaged many trees.
SOUTHWEST: Close to 70 percent of the 17 inches of rain that fell during the year came in the last four months of 2009, making a big difference to the agricultural situation. The forage situation significantly improved. The rain made both small-grain planting for winter pastures and early spring row-crop planting possible. The rain delayed the fall vegetable and pecan harvest. A hard freeze in early December damaged some spinach that was ready for harvest. However, growers were able to quickly resume the harvesting of spinach, cabbage, carrots, lettuce and broccoli thanks to the relatively dry weather that followed. The pecan harvest remained behind schedule but was nearly complete.
WEST CENTRAL: Days and nights were very cold with snow reported in many areas. The snow improved soil moisture levels, though the low temperatures slowed melting. Producers continued supplemental feeding of livestock because of the bad weather. Livestock were in fair to good condition.