Just weeks ago, Randal Boman, Extension cotton agronomist in Lubbock, said he was hoping for rain to help dryland crops and reduce irrigation expense in the High Plains.
Now, after about two weeks of consecutive hail and thunderstorms, he is wondering when the rain will cease. Although the recent rains helped many dryland cotton farmers, it has also hurt many producers' cotton crops, Boman said.
"It appears that most of the dryland cotton crops will be able to establish a good stand," Boman said.
Dryland farmers in the High Plains will be able to plant into soil that has moisture for the first time since 1997, Boman said.
Prior to the thunderstorms cotton producers were heavily irrigating many of their crops. The seeds ended up sitting in wet soil in 40 to 50 degree temperatures and a lot of the irrigated cotton now has seedling disease, Boman said.
The thunderstorms not only brought rain, they also brought hail. Crops in many counties across the High Plains were severely damaged, if not completely destroyed.
"I estimate there is more than 200,000 acres damaged in the High Plains, although there is no way to be really sure right now," Boman said.
Thunderstorms have hit the High Plains nearly daily. As soon as it gets dry enough for producers to get into the field to plant or perform tillage operations to reduce sand damage, it rains or hails again, Boman said.
Producers will have to make a decision as to whether they are going to collect insurance and destroy what is left, or wait out the storms and hope they have a reasonably healthy crop. Other producers will plant a catch crop of sorghum or sunflowers, Boman said.
Travis Miller, associate head and Extension program leader for soil and crop sciences in College Station, said many crops in Central Texas, Southwest Texas and the Gulf Coast were severely damaged due to drought.
"A lot of wheat was cut for hay because of freeze injury and dry conditions," Miller said. "But corn is by far the crop that was the most damaged due to drought."
Although the current drought has also damaged corn crops, corn was not cut for hay because of its coarse stalks and nitrate problems. It is, however, sometimes cut for silage, he said.
Most corn in the Brazos River bottom is irrigated, while there are some dryland corn crops.
"Irrigated corn is doing well," Miller said. "Dryland corn is not doing as well. Some producers have abandoned their fields, and now the corn stalks are drying up and falling over."
However, the cost of irrigation is very high. Farmers have previously budgeted fuel prices for natural gas at $2 to $3 per thousand cubic foot. Now fuel prices are around $7, Miller said.
"The sorghum got more advantage from the recent rains than corn because the corn was further along in maturity, and sorghum is inherently more drought tolerant" Miller said.
Some producers may even harvest their corn for silage, but not all producers have this option. In order to do this a producer must be located near a dairy farm, otherwise the cost of freight is unreasonable, Miller said.
Bob Robinson, district Extension director in Amarillo, said corn in his area is suffering from hail damage. Some corn has also been reported to be infested with root worms, he said.
According to Scott Durham, district Extension director in San Angelo, some cotton will need replanting due to flood and hail damage. Sorghum and winter wheat were also damaged by flooding and hail, he said.
The following specific livestock, crop and weather conditions were reported by district Extension directors.
- PANHANDLE: Soil moisture very short to adequate. Much needed rain fell last week. Corn rated fair to good with a few fields rated excellent. Some hail damage in the northwestern Panhandle. Cotton is 95 percent planted and stands are fair to good. Peanut stands are rated fair to good with no pest problems reported. Wheat is mostly very poor to fair. Some hail damage reported. Range conditions improving after recent rains. Cattle are in good to fair condition
- SOUTH PLAINS: Soil moisture adequate to surplus. Range and pastures in fair condition. Pastures are recovering from long period of drought. Supplemental cattle feeding continues. Some corn and sorghum received hail damage. Some wheat has been harvested. Most peanuts in good condition after hail storms because of multiple growing points
- ROLLING PLAINS: Soil moisture adequate. Cooler than normal temperatures. Wheat harvest slowed due to wet fields. Cotton planting also delayed. Range and pasture conditions improving significantly. Third cutting of alfalfa should begin soon. Livestock in good condition as forage and pasture supply increases. Fall born calves are being shipped to stocker operations and feed lots. Fly and mosquito populations increasing. Horses are being vaccinated for West Nile virus.
- NORTH TEXAS: Soil moisture short to adequate. Corn and cotton rated fair to good. Hail-damaged crops making progress. Most crops being replanted, others are being claimed on insurance. Spring pastures being cut for hay. Wheat harvest about 40 percent complete. Sweet potato transplanting looks good. Watermelons are doing well. Ponds that support livestock are a little low.
- EAST TEXAS: Soil moisture very short. Grazing is very limited. Haying operations are slowed. Cattle conditions are good; steady market prices. Irrigated vegetables doing well. Berry yields are good to excellent.
- FAR WEST TEXAS: Soil moisture very short to surplus. Pastures improving in most counties. Some cotton damaged by high winds, or destroyed by hail. Up to 7 inches of rain fell in a very short time which led to flash flooding in some areas.
- WEST CENTRAL: Soil moisture short to adequate. Late rains helped refill stock tanks and increase soil moisture. Wheat harvest and cotton planting delayed due to wet conditions. Some cotton will be replanted due to flood and hail damage. Range and pastures improving. Strong lamb and cattle markets. Pecan irrigation has begun but was halted due to rainfall.
- CENTRAL TEXAS: Soil moisture short to adequate. Recent rains too late to help corn crop but will benefit pasture and rangeland. Some corn is being destroyed in order to plant a second cotton crop in hopes of summer rains. Cattle market increased this week because of dry pastures.
- SOUTHEAST TEXAS: Soil moisture short. Lack of moisture resulting in a decrease of hay production and poor range conditions. This resulted in poor grazing and feedlot animals being sold at market. Green fields are beginning to dry out. Some producers are beginning to plant late soybeans and cotton. Corn and sorghum showing signs of drought stress. Rice and turfgrass still under irrigation. Cattle operators are feeding hay and continue supplemental feeding. Some herds are being thinned.
- SOUTHWEST TEXAS: Soil moisture short to very short. Irrigated crops progressing well, while dryland crops are at a standstill. Corn beginning to dry down prematurely in some fields. Corn, cotton, sorghum and peanuts beginning to make good progress under heavy irrigation. Cabbage and potato harvest winding down. Livestock remains in good condition, although there is below average forage availability. Rain is needed for forage that will feed livestock throughout the summer.
- COASTAL BEND: Soil moisture short to adequate. Row crops are suffering from dry conditions. Corn crop is showing signs of drought stress. Cattle producers culling less productive cows, and younger cows are going to market. Supplemental feeding is still required due to short grass availability.
- SOUTH TEXAS: Soil moisture very short. Spring vegetable harvest winding down. Melons and watermelon harvest continues. Sugarcane harvest completed. Sorghum and cotton making rapid growth under hot conditions. Cattle producers beginning to liquidate herd. Cattle prices are remarkably good.
Ellen Klostermann is a writer for the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.