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2020 growing season underway amid dry conditions in much of Texas


Preparations and planting in South Texas are kicking off the 2020 growing season, but the region, like much of the state, is behind on rainfall, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialists.

Drier-than-normal conditions may not worry producers who use irrigation, but dryland growers could be looking at a disastrous season if significant and timely rainfall doesn’t materialize.

Juan Anciso, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Weslaco, said temperatures in South Texas have been mild with below-average rainfall since November. Despite drier-than-normal weather, growing conditions have been ideal for cool-season vegetable crops like cabbage, onions and carrots under irrigation.

“It’s been nice and sunny, which has been good for growth,” he said. “There’s also been little, if any, insect and disease pressure on crops.”

Producers will be harvesting those crops up to May, Anciso said. Some warm-season crops are being planted, and growers are preparing cropland, including prewatering to improve soil moisture levels for seeds.

Anciso said watermelon growers have been planting in small tunnel houses, which work like mini greenhouses, and will continue planting over the next several weeks. The tunnel houses allow those growers to start their crops and get to market earlier than normal. The region typically experiences its last freeze on Feb. 14.

Growers are also preparing to plant other warm-season crops including tomatoes, cantaloupes, honey dew melons and peppers, but that watermelons are the primary warm-season crop.

Danielle Sekula, AgriLife Extension entomologist, Weslaco, said growers were also preparing soil, spraying preemergent herbicides and prewatering for row crops like corn, sorghum and cotton. Many growers were ordering seeds while others were still considering their planting options.

Some growers with irrigation had already planted corn with planting operations expected to ramp up over the next few weeks, she said. Sorghum planting was expected to begin within the next two weeks, but many dryland growers were waiting for rain.

“Hopefully it rains,” she said. “Some producers are waiting until the threat of a cold front passes, but all the dryland acres are waiting for some rain.”

Sekula said some areas had received up to an inch in December, but conditions have been dry otherwise. Producers are hoping 2020 is not a repeat of 2018 when planted crops in many areas were lost to drought.

“It’s been cloudy and looked like rain but then nothing falls,” she said. “If it continues like this a lot of cropland will likely burn up in the summer heat.”

CENTRAL

Some good rainfall helped small grains. Temperatures were cooler but normal for this time of year. There was heavy fog early in the reporting period. Nearly all counties reported adequate soil moisture. Most counties reported fair overall rangeland, pasture and crop conditions. Rainfall stopped pecan harvest. Field preparation for spring planting continued and was close to completion. Corn silage producers were preparing fields because many may plant early this year. Wheat continued to look good. Cattle were in good condition with producers feeding hay and supplements. Stock tanks were suffering from no runoff rainfall. Cattle prices have gone up a little, and goat and sheep markets have done great.

ROLLING PLAINS

Weather conditions were mild, and some areas received moisture. Conditions in winter wheat fields varied from poor to good. Rangeland and pasture conditions were poor to fair. Cattle producers continued supplementing cow-calf and stocker operations with protein and hay where forages were limited.

COASTAL BEND

Recent rains helped build the soil moisture profile. Producers resumed fieldwork, while a few areas remained at a standstill due to wet conditions. Corn producers prepared to plant and may begin planting soon if field conditions remain favorable. Rangeland and pasture conditions were good for this time of year. Renovation and some fertilization occurred in hay fields. Pastures greened up and produced a fair amount of forage. Both hay and supplemental feeding continued for beef cattle. Cattle remained in good condition with average sales numbers at market.

EAST

Conditions varied widely across the district. Some areas, like Harrison County, were soggy and experiencing problems because of excess rain. Other areas, like parts of Smith County, needed more rain. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate. Newton County reported difficulties for the timber/logging industry to maintain production due to prolonged periods of rain. Livestock conditions were fair to good with supplemental feeding taking place. Cattle prices continued to increase. Wild pigs caused damage and remained a problem in most areas.

SOUTH PLAINS

Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels were low due to lack of moisture. Pasture, rangeland and winter wheat conditions were poor to fair. Light rains in eastern parts of the district helped winter wheat. Producers were prepping for spring planting. But most winter wheat across the district needed moisture. Some farmers were planning to plant oats at the end of the month. Cattle were in good condition.

PANHANDLE

Areas of the district received up to half an inch of snow or wintery mix. Southern areas remained very dry. No farming activity was reported. Cattle on rangeland were receiving supplemental feed. Producers with stockers on wheat pasture reported good gains. Producers applied fertilizers in preparation for the upcoming spring planting season.

NORTH

Topsoil moisture levels were adequate to surplus. Temperatures were mild. Some rain fell across most counties. Wheat and ryegrass pastures were growing due to warmer days. Wild pig activity was high.

FAR WEST

Temperature highs were in the low 80s with lows in the lower 30s. A few scattered showers delivered up to 0.5 of an inch. Moisture was very short. Wheat field conditions ranged from very poor to good with the majority being poor to good. Wheat planted in early to mid-October looked best. Many fields looked drought stressed. Fieldwork began around the district. Prewatering may begin soon if rain does not come. Pecans were still being harvested in the Rio Grande Valley due to late rains in November, December and January. Rangeland conditions were poor.

WEST CENTRAL

The district received a little moisture. A widespread, soaking rain to replenish soil moisture was needed. Dryland wheat was not doing much. Grazing in pastures was scarce. Fieldwork for spring planting continued. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Cattle markets were stronger while the sheep and goat market was lower.

SOUTHEAST

Continuous rain saturated the soil and more rain was forecast. The rain was expected to benefit pastures. Fieldwork was halted due to wet conditions. Stock tanks in Brazos County were getting low and temperatures were unseasonably warm. Cool-season forages were doing well, and, with warmer daytime temperatures, growth should increase. In Jefferson County, winter ryegrass was the only forage growing. Excessive moisture made for rough growing conditions. Crawfish were beginning to be harvested. Rangeland and pasture ratings were excellent to very poor with fair being most common. Soil moisture levels ranged from surplus to very short with surplus being most common.

SOUTHWEST

Rainfall was reported throughout the district along with cooler temperatures.  This enhanced cool-season vegetation. Oats and wheat looked good and preparations for spring planting were underway.  Livestock were in fair condition and producers continued with supplemental feeding. Wildlife were in fair condition. Colder weather was expected later this week.

SOUTH

Mild weather conditions with short to very short soil moisture levels was reported. La Salle County reported receiving 14 inches of rain for 2019 and only trace amounts so far in 2020. Irrigation was keeping food plots, oats and other crops alive there. Maverick County also reported extreme drought conditions. Strawberries were blooming and making fruit. Wheat and oats planting were complete, and fields had emerged.  Potato planting continued. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to poor. Livestock supplemental feeding continued. Crop fields were being prepared for vegetable season. Coastal Bermuda grass fields were not mature yet. Spinach harvest was active and cabbage harvest continued. Some producers planted corn following rainfall, and the crop had emerged. Others were prewatering their land in preparation for planting.

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