Rain in the last couple of weeks has lessened the stress on some crops and allowed many agricultural producers to take a second or even third cutting of hay, according to reports from Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.
However, the drought isn't over yet. As of Aug. 11, burn bans remained in effect in 132 of the 254 Texas counties, according to the Texas Forest Service. And though late July and early August rains did green up many areas, most already need or will soon need more rain.
Unless they receive significant rain in the next week or two, dryland cotton in the Rolling Plains may not make a crop. But by far, conditions are most dire in counties south of U.S. Interstate Highway 10, AgriLife Extension agents said.
"Range and pastures remain in very poor condition with forage supply and livestock water from stock tanks at critically low levels," said Isaac J. Cavazos, AgriLife Extension agent for McMullen County . "Low forage supply conditions coupled with high feed prices and low stock tank water levels are forcing ranchers to further cull their herds and in some cases liquidate the entire herd."
It's not just cattle that are suffering. Wildlife populations are at risk in South Texas too, said Dr. Jim Gallagher, AgriLife Extension wildlife specialist based in Uvalde.
"It's gotten so dry that the (feral) hogs have moved out," he said.
Gallagher was not kidding. Areas such as Caldwell County that had high incidences of hog damage are now not seeing hogs.
Wildlife and hunting leases are big business in South Texas. Many landowners make from three to five times as much on their wildlife ventures as they do in conventional agriculture, according to Gallagher.
"It's getting tougher; there's no doubt about it," he said. "I was farther south on the Coastal Plains during July. Adult quail seem to be surviving all right, but out of the couple of dozen groups that I saw, about 20 were just a male and female pair. And that's some of the better results that I've seen."
Gallagher said he has seen some fawns but he wonders how many will live. Although there is cover for the mother deer to hide the fawn in some areas, he wonders if does will have enough food to produce sufficient milk to support their fawns into the fall.
More information on drought in Texas can be found at the Web site of the Drought Joint Information Center.
The following summaries were compiled by AgriLife Extension district reporters:
CENTRAL: Pastures greened up thanks to rain, but stock water tanks remained low. High temperatures were quickly drying out top soils. Producers who put out a second application of fertilizer before the rains expected to take another hay cutting soon. Hay was in short supply because of high demand. Producers were still supplying livestock with supplemental feed. Crops yields were low.
COASTAL BEND: Hot and dry conditions persisted. The cotton harvest was ongoing. Producers continued to sell livestock because hay was scarce and expensive, and there was no standing forage in pastures.
EAST: Rains gave some drought relief, but some areas already needed more rain. Pastures greened up, and many producers were expected to take another hay cutting. Burn bans were still in effect in some counties. Vegetable harvests were winding down. Infestations of armyworms and grasshoppers were reported. Feral hog activity increased. Livestock were in fair to good condition.
FAR WEST: Widely scattered showers with accumulations of 0.1 to 2 inches were reported. Pecans passed from the nut-growth stage to the water and gel stage. Cotton fields had a second flush of growth that was expected to compensate for earlier defoliation caused by southwestern cotton rust. Bacterial blight was reported in some cotton varieties. Farmers were spraying for stink bugs. Fall armyworm populations on sorghum fields decreased. Pastures and livestock were in good shape. Chiles were in full bloom and setting fruit. Alfalfa was growing and was nearly ready for the fourth cutting. Corn was silking.
NORTH: Soil moisture ranged from short to surplus. Daytime highs returned to about 100 degrees by the end of the reporting period. Some hay producers were taking a third cutting of hay. Corn was in fair to good condition, and harvesting was under way but with below-average yields. Soybeans were in fair condition and, though a little behind, showed good yield potential. Grain sorghum was maturing and in fair to good condition. Rice started to head and was in fair to good condition. Cotton was setting bolls and in fair to good condition. The rains triggered an armyworm hatch and there were many reports of infestations. Livestock were in fair to good condition but stressed by the hot weather. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to good condition.
PANHANDLE: Summer returned with hotter temperatures and wind. Soil moisture remained adequate except in eastern counties where they were still dry. Insects remained light. Weeds were a problem in areas with recent rains. Corn, cotton, peanut, soybean and sunflowers were in good condition. Sorghum was in fair condition. Ranges were fair in the west and dry in the east.
ROLLING PLAINS: Daytime highs were at or above 100 degrees, which took a toll on crops. Cotton plants in some fields were beginning to wilt. Producers worried that without a rain in the next few weeks cotton may not make a crop. Pastures and rangeland were beginning to show stress from lack of moisture and excessive heat. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Producers have prepared fields for planting wheat and oats. Alfalfa hay production was ongoing. In Haskell County, peanut producers were expecting a good crop.
SOUTH: Hot, dry and windy conditions continued, and soil moisture remained short. In the northern and western parts of the region, corn and sorghum harvests were completed. Cotton bolls were opening, and peanuts pegging. Producers continued to heavily irrigate due to the lack of rain. The cotton harvest was peaking in the southern parts of the region. Corn and grain sorghum harvesting was ongoing, and preparation for fall crop planting continued. Irrigation of citrus and sugarcane crops was also active. Rangeland and pastures remained in very poor condition. Forages were scarce, and livestock water tanks were at critically low levels. Cattle were dying in pastures, according to reports from AgriLife Extension in Duval County. Ranchers were forced to further cull their herds. In some cases, they have liquidated their entire herds.
SOUTH PLAINS: Hot and dry weather returned with highs in the 90s. Soil moisture was short to adequate. Corn was in good condition, and early planted corn began to dent. Cotton progressed rapidly after rain and was in fair to good condition. Later-planted dryland cotton continued to lag behind. Sorghum and peanuts were in fair to good condition. Pastures and rangeland were in fair to good condition thanks to the rain. Livestock were in good to excellent condition.
SOUTHEAST: Extremely hot temperatures and lack of rain left pastures in poor shape in some counties. In others, rangeland and pastures were in good condition, but more rain was needed to sustain growth. Local hay was difficult to come by. Producers continued to wean calves early and send them to market. Some cattle herds were culled of older cattle to limit grazing pressure.
SOUTHWEST: The last 11 months have been the second-driest period on record. Hot, dry southerly winds aggravated the drought and increased the risk of roadside and field wildfires. The soil profile was very dry. Forages were almost non-existent. The corn and sorghum harvests were completed. Cotton, peanuts and pecans made good progress under heavy irrigation.
WEST CENTRAL: Hot, dry conditions returned. However, soil-moisture levels remained high. Crops improved. The corn harvest was completed with lower than expected yields. Producers continued cutting and baling hay. Rangeland and pasture conditions improved. Stock tanks remained very low and needed a rain of run-off proportions. Pecans looked good.