Farmers across most of South Texas are having a hard week making a decision as they keep their eyes cast to the skies for signs of rain.

Friday, March 15, is the annual deadline to sign up for federal crop insurance for Spring seeded crops such as corn, soybeans, spring oats and grain sorghum, and while farmers from the Texas Rio Grande Valley to the Coastal Bend are anxious to get seed in the ground, another looming year of drought and a shortage of soil moisture has kept most from rolling equipment into their fields.

“I took a little time to drive around the county [this week] to survey field conditions and it’s bone dry across all western parts of the county,” reports Nueces County Extension agent Jeffrey Stapper. “Most farmers I have talked with have been waiting to see if March would bring rains to facilitate planting, and it’s not looking good.”

Stapper made the comments late last week before Sunday rain showers provided some moisture, especially for northern and eastern reaches of the county. But most of the Coastal Bend remains in severe drought condition with less than two inches of rain so far this year.

“Many of the growers I talked to said they are waiting to see if any rain falls before the crop insurance deadline, so we will probably see either a spike in insurance coverage or in planting—one or the other—by the middle of the month,” Stapper added.

Eastern counties of the Coastal Bend experienced substantial rain and warmer temperatures over the weekend, an encouraging sign, but wet fields altered plans for planting in some counties. Washington County ryegrass and oat pastures showed some growth and volunteer ryegrass sprouted in many areas as a result of recent rainfall and higher temperatures.

In Colorado County, winter wheat had emerged but had not yet set seed. In DeWitt County, corn planting is underway as soil moisture was adequate, but more rain was needed. In Wharton County, topsoil moisture levels were rated fair and farmers were fertilizing corn fields with planting expected to begin as early as later this week.

“They have received significantly more rain to the east than we have in the western Coastal Bend,” Stapper reports. “In fact, some areas east of the Colorado [River] where the fields are too wet to plant. Rainfall this year and late last year moved the drought monitor from severe to moderate in the east. Their winter forage is looking good and the prospect for corn, cotton and sorghum look good right now as well.”

Rio Grande Valley still dry

Brad Cowan, Hidalgo County Extension agent for agriculture reports conditions are a little worse in the Rio Grande Valley.

“Very few folks have been putting seed in the ground down here until now. It’s just too dry in most areas, and with a strong possibility that only one watering will be allocated from irrigation districts, no one wants to bet the rains will return any time soon,” Cowan said.

But over the last week some planting progress has been made and light rain has fallen in some areas. In Hidalgo County, a few farmers are finally planting corn and grain sorghum and are almost finished planting sunflowers. In Starr County, spring vegetable and row-crop planting is underway. In Willacy County, growers began planting grain sorghum the second week of February and some of the crop had already emerged.

“But we are going to see fewer acres of cotton as a result of dry conditions and probably less sorghum as well. By and large we are in a terrible hurt for rain,” Cowan added.

Across other areas of South Texas, in Frio County potatoes have emerged and wheat and oats were reported in fair condition. In Jim Wells County, ample moisture helped row crops a little, but more rain was needed to promote establishment. Maverick County wheat was doing well under irrigation.

In Zavala County, very dry conditions have stressed dryland wheat and oats. Producers with irrigation were watering winter vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, onions and carrots. Also in that area, harvest of processed and fresh-market spinach was very active, while some cabbage fields were not quite ready for harvest.

Friday is the cutoff date for purchasing a new crop insurance policy and/or for adding a crop for coverage that a farmer has never grown before. It is also the deadline for changing the coverage on a currently insured crop.

USDA is reminding producers to remember that a crop insurance policy is a continuous policy that renews automatically. If a crop producer does not want his policy to continue, he must cancel his policy by the March 15th deadline.

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