Texas crop, weather for June 7, 2011

State Climatologist: Drought third-worst in Texas history

Ponds throughout Texas, like this one in the Panhandle, continued to evaporate because of high temperatures and winds. Livestock producers depend upon such ponds as water sources for cattle. (Texas AgriLife Communications photo by Kay Ledbetter)

Broadcast editors: A 2-minute MP3 audio version of this report can be found at: http://agrilifecdn.tamu.edu/today/files/2011/06/0607crop-weather-AUDIO.mp3

COLLEGE STATION - Is this the worst Texas drought ever?

The answer is no, but it certainly is one of the worst, according to Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas A&M University professor and Texas state climatologist.

"Based on Palmer Drought Severity Index values, this is the third-worst drought Texas has ever seen in the month of May," Nielsen-Gammon writes in his blog, the Climate Abyss . "Records go back to 1895. May also marks the end of the driest eight-month period on record."

The worst droughts remain those in 1918 and 1956, according Nielsen-Gammon.

Nielson-Gammon's blog is hosted by the Houston Chronicle and can be found at http://blog.chron.com/climateabyss/ .

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor , nearly 50 percent of the state remained in what is termed an "exceptional" drought, which means a once in 50-year occurrence. More than 90 percent of the state was experiencing either a severe or exceptional drought. Only parts of north central and northeast Texas were not at least abnormally dry as of May 31.

It may not be the worst drought ever, but lifelong farmers throughout the state are telling Texas AgriLife Extension Service agents this is the driest they've ever experienced.

"Weather continued to be hot and dry," said Mark Brown, AgriLife Extension agent for Lubbock County . "Blowing dust from gusting winds occurred on several days. Irrigation continues where feasible. May ended with 0.26 inches of moisture recorded, making this year the driest five-month period on record for Lubbock."

And while a few weeks ago, rains may have greened things up in East Texas , the region remains in a drought, according to AgriLife Extension agent reports.

"We are in bad need of rain," said Clint Perkins,AgriLife Extension agent for Wood County , about 100 miles east of Dallas. "Hay production is starting with drastically decreased yields. I have reports that the first cutting is one-quarter to half of normal."

"Corn, milo and cotton are under severe drought-like conditions and stressing," said Pasquale Swaner, AgriLife Extension agent for Falls County , near Temple. "Stocker cattle producers have shipped cattle to feedlots. Pasture conditions are severe with little hay production across the county."

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/ .

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

The 12 Texas AgriLife Extension Service Districts

Central: The rain from two weeks ago played out. Stock-water tanks were drying out, and pastures were not producing much grass. Strong winds and high temperatures continued to make conditions worse. Some producers made their first hay cutting for fear of losing the crop. Hay yields were expected to be about half of the normal crop. Without rain soon, producers expected to have to start selling cows again.

Coastal Bend: The region was hot, windy and dry with above-normal temperatures and no rain in the forecast. Pastures continued to deteriorate, and ranchers reported increased supplemental feeding of livestock. Sorghum was maturing quickly because of heat and moisture stress, and producers were planning to harvest soon.

East: The region remained very hot, dry and windy, which further aggravated drought conditions. Producers began to cut hay, but were only getting one-fourth to one-half of normal yields. Farmers were spraying to control grasshoppers and horn flies. Livestock producers continued culling herds, and prices at sale barns were falling. Creeks and ponds were drying up throughout the region. In Trinity County some landowners were taking advantage of the drought to clean out and enlarge ponds. The blueberry and blackberry harvests were under way with good yields reported. Reports of feral hog activity and damage increased.

Far West: Some counties haven't received any measurable rainfall in over 264 days. The danger of wildfire remained high. Conditions were windy and dry with very hot days. The lack of spring rainfall was still ranchers' main concern as they need grass for cattle. Cotton planting was ongoing, with most irrigated fields being finished where some plantings were already emerging. Dryland farmers began planting cotton although there was virtually no chance of the crop even emerging. Pastures were in poor shape. Wildlife was venturing into town and into domestic yards for food. Pecan nut growth began following pollination. Alfalfa was nearly ready for a second cutting. Bulbing of fall-planted onions was nearly complete, which means two to three weeks until the crop is harvestable. Chiles were doing fair at this time. Pastures were brown, though trees remained green.

North: Lack of rain, increased temperatures and winds of 15 mph and higher dried out soils and hammered forage growth. Soil-moisture levels were from very short to adequate. The wheat harvest was 40 percent to 50 percent finished. From early reports, yields were a little above average; some farmers reported yields of 60 to 70 bushels per acre. Some farmers have unharvested wheat in low-lying fields that were still wet from the previous rains. Corn was in fair to good condition and beginning to tassel. Grain sorghum and soybeans were in fair to good condition. Ranchers were harvesting early season hay, with yields reported as being slightly below average. Cotton farmers were nearly finished planting, as were sunflower growers. The oat harvest was completed. Peanuts and rice were both in very poor condition. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to good condition. Livestock were in fair to good condition.

Panhandle: A few isolated showers were reported, with accumulations ranging from 0.1 inch to 1.5 inches. However, the region overall continued to experience hot, dry and windy weather. Soil-moisture levels were mostly very short. The danger of wildfire remained high. Farmers with irrigation were applying lots of water to all summer crops. Rangeland and pasture conditions were very poor in most counties. Ranchers continue to cull herds due to the drought. Supplemental feeding was heavy by those ranchers trying to hang on to cattle.

Rolling Plains: The region was dry, windy and with highs above 100 degrees. Cotton producers were planting on irrigated fields, but even applying enough water to plant has proven to be a challenge. In the areas that received rain, producers were fighting blowing sand and soil erosion. In some cases they were performing a light tillage operation called "scratching" to loosen up caked soil and allow cotton plants to break the surface. Some cotton farmers had to replant. Only limited dryland cotton acreage was planted. Stock-tanks water evaporated because of wind and high temperatures. Cattle were suffering. Producers were bringing in hay and further culling their herds.

South Plains: The region remained hot, dry and windy, with most counties still under burn bans. Most farmers were finishing up planting to meet insurance deadlines. Some irrigated cotton emerged but was being blasted from sand driven by high winds. Newly emerged cotton was also threatened by thrips and early spider mites. Pasture and rangeland were still dry, and producers continued supplementing cattle. Stock-water ponds were dry, and ranchers had to make daily inspections to save cattle trapped, bogged down in the mud.

South: The drought continued to worsen. No rain and extremely high temperatures, 100 degrees and above, drove soil moisture down to critical levels, and hammered rangeland and pastures. What little water was left in livestock tanks was quickly evaporating. Ranchers were searching for hay to feed livestock. They increased feeding of molasses and range cubes, but the price for such supplemental feeds was on the rise. In response, some producers were using prickly pear cactus as an emergency food source. Others continued to liquidate herds. In the northern part of the region, peanut planting was in full swing, cotton was blooming and setting squares, the potato harvest was ongoing, and the watermelon harvest began. In the eastern part of the region, producers were preparing to harvest rapidly maturing crops. In the western part of the region, growers were actively harvesting onions. Also in that area, corn, cotton and sorghum progressed well under heavy irrigation. In the southern part of the region, cotton producers were irrigating, while sorghum turned color and was showing signs of early maturity.

Southeast: Large lakes began to show severe loss of water, and many small ponds were completely dry. Even hay producers with irrigated fields had only made one cutting. Non-irrigated hay fields had no harvestable production. Local cattle sales continued to be large as producers culled and reduced numbers.

Southwest: The agricultural situation was rapidly deteriorating. Near record-high temperatures accompanied by high winds aggravated the drought. Irrigated corn, sorghum, peanuts, sunflowers, cotton, sweet corn, cantaloupes, watermelons, pecans, grapes, peaches, sod and landscape nursery crops made good progress under heavy irrigation. The onion, potato and sweet-corn harvests were in high gear. Onion yields and quality were excellent, but prices remained weak. The cantaloupe and watermelon harvest slowly gained momentum. Green beans, tomatoes and squash continued to make good progress, and harvesting was expected to begin soon. Pastures and rangeland made some progress after a mid-May rain, but growth soon ceased as there was little moisture deep in the soil profile. Forage availability remained below average. Incidences of wildlife collisions with motor vehicles continued to increase as animals foraged roadsides at night.

West Central: Extremely dry, windy conditions continued. Temperatures remained in the upper 90s to the triple digits with no rain reported. Wildfire danger was at an all-time high, and burn bans remained in effect. The wheat harvest was complete with far below normal yields. Cotton producers needed rain to be able to plant. Spring-planted crops needed moisture to survive. Farmers were running irrigation systems at full capacity. Rangeland and pastures were in poor condition. All forages and vegetation were dying. Hay supplies were short and prices high. Stock-water tanks were critically low to dry. Producers were force to continue to increase supplemental feeding of cattle. Many cow/calf operators were reducing their herds.