While the water crisis for the Texas Lower Rio Grande Valley is far from over, late April and early May rains have brought some hope to farmers who had all but given up on any chance of a productive crop year. But in spite of a few soaking showers, most agree much more rain will be needed for a successful fall harvest.
Sonia Lambert, general manager of the San Benito irrigation district (SBID), says rain showers over the last three weeks may keep some farmers from using up the last of their irrigation allocations, at least for a two more weeks.
Some irrigation districts in the Valley, including SBID, had estimated they would run out of water supplies by the end of May, and without additional rain in the days ahead, that remains a possibility. But Lambert says any rain is a help, and thunderstorms the last couple of days in April and again during the first ten days of May brought just enough relief to bring "guarded hope" the growing season still has a chance for redemption.
"The rains have postponed it [running out of water]," Lambert said, indicating her district is hoping to stretch water supplies until the end of June.
In the Mid-Valley, Mercedes Irrigation District officials believe they may have enough irrigation water to make it to the middle of July "or a little longer," but a few districts are still in desperate need of more water, and "as quickly as possible."
Over the last three weeks the Harlingen area has received just over four inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service station in Brownsville, but until the recent rains, measureable precipitation had not fallen since early January.
While the recent rains have helped sorghum, corn, citrus and sugar cane crops, they were too little and too late to help most cotton growers. Farmers say irrigated cotton might be the exception, but dryland cotton stands virtually no chance this late in the season.
Some areas too dry
In nearby Jim Wells County, crop-insurance adjusters estimated that more than 90 percent of the grain sorghum, corn and cotton were a total loss. Only a few early-planted corn fields had a chance of making a crop, depending on additional moisture. Ironically, soil-moisture levels in Jim Wells County currently are estimated 100 percent adequate because of good rains over the past couple of weeks—too late to save most crops.
In deep South Texas, early-planted cotton crops in Cameron County were blooming late last week with some insect activity reported. Grain sorghum was in good condition and corn was silking. In Starr County, irrigated row crops improved and vegetable harvesting was ongoing.
John Norman, editor of the row crops IPM Newsletter for the Lower Rio Grande Valley, says most of the remaining irrigated cotton is blooming and squaring "nicely" across most of the Valley, and thanks to recent rains, insect activity is greatly reduced over the last week in some fields. Also of benefit, temperatures are beginning to warm up after an extended cool start to the early spring.
Overall, fleahopper activity has been relatively low in the Valley, higher numbers of whiteflies are being reporting near Brownsville. In southern Cameron County whitefly counts were reported as high as four-to-five adults per leaf and aphid infestations were high enough to warrant spraying.
For sorghum crops, Norman recommends check now for sorghum midge, which were observed across parts of the Mid-Valley last week. He recommends growers manage Johnson grass growing alongside sorghum fields and in ditches to discourage midge developing on them and then transferring to sorghum fields.
No new insect activity was reported last week in corn, but Mid-Valley corn shows signs or earworm eggs on corn ears. Norman says it’s time to watch corn carefully for developing earworm advancement.
Extension specialists say the recent rains will help all Valley crops in more ways than one. While citrus harvest and onion harvest have wrapped up across the Valley, rainfall will benefit soil conditions greatly because irrigated fields suffer from salty irrigation water. Officials at the Texas International Produce Association in Mission say recent rains may also help save citrus trees that have used the last of their irrigation allotments.
But in spite of the recent rain, Valley agriculture officials are quick to point out that even if rains continue into the summer, the region is in desperate need of water owed by a 1944 water treaty.
Under terms of that treaty, Texas farmers and irrigation officials say Mexico is behind in delivering nearly a half-million acre-feet of water it owes the U.S. for the current five- year cycle, which began in October of 2010. In all, Mexico is required to deliver 1.75 million acre-feet of water over the five-year period. So far, they have delivered only about 408,000 acre-feet.
Valley farmers and water officials say the loss of most of this year's dryland cotton and other crops could have been avoided if Mexico had paid their water debt before now.