South Texas cotton and grain farmers were celebrating ample subsoil and surface moisture for planting in late February and early March, but sometimes had their hands full with heavy rains that threatened to crust soil and delay emergence.

“We're trying to finish planting cotton,” said Webb Wallace, a crop consultant and executive director of the Cotton and Grain Producers of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

He said a mid-March rain dropped from one-half to 3 inches of water on a good portion of the Valley. “We had a lot of cotton still under ground when that rain came,” he said, “so a good many farmers will be running rotary hoes as soon as they can get into the fields.”

Wallace said areas that got rain rarely got the “gentle rain that would have just soaked into the soil but a hard rain. We prefer that conditions remain dry until cotton emerges.”

Emergence on some acreage where heaviest rain fell could be questionable.

“Most Valley cotton growers are in the short rows,” he said, “and we have a lot of cotton up already. Probably 20 percent to 30 percent of what we've planted is off to a good start, but we have a lot that has not emerged.”

Wallace said planting moisture has been good. “We had a good rain in late February so soil moisture was almost ideal. Temperature, however, was a little cool.

“We need some warm, dry weather now to finish planting and get the crop up. “We don't want to get into a situation where we have to sand fight.”

Wallace said Valley acreage projections are not much changed from last year but a few irrigated fields may revert to sugar cane.

He said growers also are eager to get their first Boll Weevil Eradication Program season underway. Actual treatments will not begin until late in the season, but Wallace said the Boll Weevil Foundation has been busy hiring full-time personnel and conducting training. “We're about ready to start trapping,” he said.

Wallace said most of the Valley grain sorghum crop has emerged, noting, “It looks pretty good.”

Up the coast, cotton growers around the Coastal Bend, “had seven or eight days of gorgeous weather,” said Texas Extension agronomist Steve Livingston, who works out of Corpus Christi. “With five days of soil temperatures in the mid-60s, we start planting cotton,” he said.

But following that golden week, a cold front hit, dropping soil temperatures down into the 50s. “With the sunshine we've been having I don't think we'll have much pressure from diseases unless cool conditions persist,” Livingston said.

He's planted trials on the Research and Extension Center at Corpus Christi and said local farmers also put tractors in the field, “So folks are getting back to planting cotton.”

He said March weather was up and down, but with overall good soil temperature readings. “We've been averaging around 65 degrees at 1 inch in the soil for most of the month,” he said.

But temperatures have jumped and dropped. Around March 6, the temperature average stood at close to 64 degrees and it hit 76.2 on March 13. Then a cold front came in and the temperature dropped to 66.1, and then to 56.1.

“On March 17, soil temperature had moved back to 60.5, so I think we're OK,” Livingston said. He said subsurface and soil moisture have been good for planting.

“It's still early for cotton planting,” he said. “We want five days of 65 degree soil temperatures and a good outlook. We still have plenty of time to get the crop in.”

He said corn and grain sorghum crops are seeded. “Corn has a bit of yellowing from the cool conditions, but grain sorghum is just beginning to come on. We were a little late with it.”

Livingston said by late March less than 5 percent of the cotton acreage had been planted. “We have from 80 percent to 85 percent of the corn acreage in and farmers who have not planted are rapidly switching to grain sorghum. Grain sorghum acreage is about 50 percent planted.”

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com