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.”

Timely rains on the plains

The High Plains received timely rainfall in the last few days, according to reports from Plains Cotton Growers, Inc. Mary Jane Buerkle, director of communications and public affairs, says some areas averaged about 1.2 inches. “We also heard from a grower in Parmer County who reported about 2 inches. Southern portions of the PCG area (Dawson, Gaines, and Yoakum Counties) report up to 3 inches,” she says.

“West Texas Mesonet reports 2.39 inches (early this week) in Hereford with Slaton and Dimmitt at 1.8 inches. Overall, the rain is very welcome and obviously much-needed, but there are still some areas that need moisture—places that just missed out on these recent rains, particularly the eastern portions of our service area.”

Buerkle says farmers have not planted a lot of cotton in Lubbock County yet—about 10 percent—but “we are seeing activity, especially to the north. The Extension agent in Parmer County reported cotton at 65 percent planted. I know of several growers who are trying to get back into the field (following the rain), and others are having to wait to dry out a little. With a warm-up forecast this week, I think we'll see a significant uptick in planting activity over the next several days.”

Across the state, “overall the cotton looks quite good,” says Texas AgriLife Extension state cotton specialist Gaylon Morgan. 

“I recently traveled from College Station through the Upper Gulf Coast, Coastal Bend, and to the Rio Grande Valley.” He says quite a few acres between Corpus Christi and Bishop “were in a world of hurt; however, they received from 2 to 4 inches of rain since last week. The cotton was young enough that the rain will definitely help out and will go a long way to making a cotton crop.

“Of the cotton I have observed and from communications with folks, I would consider most of the cotton in South and Central Texas to be in good condition and with favorable outlook for the next few weeks,” Morgan says. “In the Rolling Plains, the North Rolling Plains (North of Abilene) area remains quite dry, but the other portions of the Rolling Plains appear to be in decent condition for planting. In the Southern High Plains, recent rains consisted of scattered showers with some of the major cotton acres (Central High Plains) missing the large rainfall events. Rains in the Northern High Plains were also scattered, and much of the region missed the May rainfall.”

The May 7-13 USDA-NASS Texas planting progress summary shows about 35 percent of the cotton crop planted, up from  33 percent this time in 2011 and 4 percent above the 5 year average for the same week.

“I think the NASS estimates are optimistic on the percent planted,” he says. “All of South Texas is planted, but the Rolling Plains and High Plains were just getting started before the rain. Now, planting will be delayed a few days or more because of the rain and wet soils.”

Farmers may work “twenty-four/seven after the soil dries enough to plant in the Rolling Plains and High Plains.”

In Oklahoma, Jerry Goodson, Extension assistant at the Oklahoma State University S.W. Research & Extension Center in Altus, says cotton is about 25 percent planted statewide. “That’s our best guess.

“Some areas have excellent moisture, while in other areas moisture is already marginal. Final planting dates for southwest Oklahoma counties are June 20, so hopefully we will get it done by then.”

Goodson says doublecrop cotton will be a gamble. “The wildcard is going be moisture in double-crop cotton following a very early wheat harvest. Rainfall will be the key.”