Severe weather damages crops, helps drought-impacted areas

By Jennifer Whitlock

What a ride Texas weather has taken us on so far in 2021., and it’s only May. Nearly an entire week of wet weather has Texas farmers and ranchers simultaneously feeling thankful and concerned, depending on their location.

Rainfall totals ranging from less than an inch to 14 inches were reported as days of downpours, flash floods and severe storms washed across the Lone Star State.

Panhandle/South Plains

After suffering from drought for much of the last year, the Texas Panhandle saw rainfall totals for the month running well above normal in many locations.

In Carson County, Billy Bob Brown, who is in his 49th year of farming, said he hasn’t seen this much steady moisture in some time.

“They say in 50 years you should see one normal year, but in 49, I don’t know what a normal year is,” he said in an interview with the Texas Farm Bureau Radio Network. “But I’d rather be blessed with it being too wet than being too dry. I’ve experienced both, and I guarantee you, being wet’s a lot more fun.”

The rain will be beneficial to his wheat, corn and sorghum crops, but Brown said he will have to wait to plant his cotton because soil temperatures are still too low.

“You really need a temperature of 62 degrees or better consistently before you put it in the ground. And then coupled with this wet weather, premature planting would’ve really been bad on the seed itself,” Brown said. “Here in Carson County, we’re looking at coming up to our planting deadline on June 1. So, we may have a little bit of a squeeze getting our cotton in this year.”

West Texas/Permian Basin

Rain eluded much of the Far West Texas region, where Culberson, Jefferson Davis and Presidio counties are in the grips of exceptional drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report.

Pecos County is doing somewhat better, with conditions ranging from abnormally dry to severe drought. But some gentle rain would have been nice, according to Warren Cude, Texas Farm Bureau District 6 state director.

The southern portion of the county, as well as neighboring Terrell County, experienced quarter- to half-dollar-sized hail and high wind gusts during the worst weather. Cude’s biggest concern was dry lightning strikes setting off wildfires, an event which thankfully did not occur.

In Howard County, Vance Smith said large hail hit just north of his place, and a tornado touched down about eight miles east.
Although Smith received about 3.5 inches of rain, it unfortunately came with a side of pea- to marble-sized hail, and he lost about 200 acres of cotton to hail damage. Some of his other cotton and corn crops were also damaged, but they may recover.

South Texas/Winter Garden

In South Texas, things are looking quite soggy.

Medina County farmer and cattle rancher Ken Graff said the area has received upwards of 14 inches of rain over the past three weeks, sometimes accompanied by severe weather.

Hail damaged roofs and structures across the area. Although Graff’s crops and those around him are okay, he noted fields south and east of Hondo, where he lives, are shredded badly.

In a stroke of luck for Dixondale Farms owner Bruce Frasier, cantaloupe planting in Dimmit County was delayed after the February freeze. So, while cantaloupe harvest would normally have started around mid-May, Frasier said they actually won’t get started for about another three weeks, giving wet fields plenty of time to dry out.

Rio Grande Valley

High winds and flash flooding had lower Rio Grande Valley residents on edge early in the week, but the weather gradually subsided and moved out of the area by Wednesday.

The rainfall was timely for farmers like Bryce Wilde in Willacy County.

“We have gotten about 5-7 inches of rain over the last couple weeks, which has been great timing for grain and cotton,” Wilde said. “Fortunately, we haven’t had any crazy wind damage. There’s been some minor flooding, but for the most part, we dodged a bullet.”

Southeast Texas/Coastal Bend

Up the coast in Matagorda County, Richard Beyer called the rain “extremely excessive.”

“The total rainfall for my farms and pasture is above 13 inches, but I have heard some totals above 20 inches were reported several miles west of me in Matagorda County and into Jackson County,” he said. “It’s still too soon to tell the impact on crops. I believe most of the sorghum and corn will be okay, but it’s likely cotton and soybeans will suffer. High ends of fields and fields with good drainage should be okay, but the lower end will suffer, maybe even become unproductive or the crops will die.”

Checking on his cattle was another challenge because the crossing to get to the pasture where they were located was too far underwater to be passable. Beyer said he hoped continued sunshine would dry things out enough to get to them soon.

Calhoun County farmer Dan Nunley said they received 12 inches of rain over 14 hours this week.

“This is the second flood in two weeks. The first was six-and-a-half inches of rain and more upstream,” Nunley said. “The cotton was just recovering from the last flood and got hit again. Cotton is damaged depending on how long it stays under or partially covered by water. And the corn is in varying stages of pollination. It’s hard to pollinate in rain or when it’s underwater. Sorghum does not like wet weather, either.”

East Texas

East Texas has not escaped the heavy rainfall, either.

In Palestine, pastures and hay fields are too saturated to enter, so farmers are postponing fertilization, according to Anderson County farmer Ted Britton.

Farmers who had already fertilized before the severe weather now face prolonged growth periods, losing valuable protein content since they cannot get the hay cured and cut between periods of rain.

Inventory at sale barns is down because ranchers cannot get their cattle to auction, he added.

Central Texas

In the heart of Texas, farmers and ranchers were hoping to receive some rain.

The rainfall was welcome in McCulloch County. Jeff Kaspar said it’s good for his pastures, but he needs a bit more to fill up his stock tanks. He estimated they received 2-4 inches of rain this week.

A bit further east, Mark Prinz, a farmer in Travis and Williamson counties, said a hailstorm earlier in May forced him to replant just over 100 acres of corn. But overall, the weather is beneficial for his crops.

“The crops are in good growing condition, and the temperature has been really favorable,” he said in an interview with Texas Farm Bureau Radio Network. “Other than that hailstorm, we’ve been pretty lucky this year.”

Neighbors near his corn that was damaged by hail lost their wheat crop to the storms, as well. However, Prinz said most was insured and they were able to bale most of it.

Things were dry enough that he was even planning to cut some hay later in the week. A little more rain would be good for some of the tanks closest to his house, but he’s pleased overall with what moisture they received.

“As a whole, this year has not been too bad in Williamson County. You hate to talk about what you don’t have yet, but the crops are off to a very good start in this part of Central Texas,” he said. “I don’t know what kind of trend that is or if it’s going to keep up, but we’re happy getting the 3/4 inch or inch of rain every week. It’s very beneficial, for sure.”