Drought further recedes but winter wheat still challenged in some areas
Drought conditions continued to recede in Texas, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor and reports from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel.
According to the monitor, a large chunk of the state, comprising mostly east Texas counties, had normal or better soil-moisture levels. About another 28 percent of the state was merely abnormally dry, which means though soil moisture was low, the areas were either not yet in drought or were recovering from drought.
These numbers represent a large improvement from last January, when about 71 percent of the state was in one stage of drought or another, from moderate to extreme. However, many parts of the state still did not show improvement.
The east Texas, southeast, Coastal Bend and parts of the south regions reported good soil-moisture conditions, which benefited winter wheat, oats and winter pastures. But for much of the rest of the state, dry, cold, windy weather continued to dry out soils and challenge winter forage production, according to agent reports.
“Winter wheat benefited from previous week’s rains,” reported AgriLife Extension in Martin County AgriLife Extension. “Sorghum harvesting is still going, with about 85 percent harvested. Producers are gearing fields up for upcoming cotton season. Weather has been really warm the last couple weeks especially for this time of year in West Texas, with a few nights getting below freezing but by midday jumping up to 60′s.”
In east Texas, moisture levels were good, but extremely cold temperatures set forage growth back, according to Aaron Low, AgriLife Extension agent for Cherokee County.
After a very dry December, the Coastal Bend region received some rain, which should generate new winter pasture growth, said Scott Willey, AgriLife Extension agent for Fayette County. However, many livestock ponds were still low and will continue to be so until a major rain event.
In the Panhandle, South Plains and Rolling Plains regions, dry conditions were still a threat to dryland winter wheat and rangeland forbs.
Rick Aukerman, AgriLife Extension agent for Deaf Smith County, reported: “No moisture in the area for a considerable amount of time is making the dryland wheat crop a distant memory—if we do not get help soon. The irrigated wheat is in fair to good shape with some stocker cattle out, but there are no appreciable amounts of cattle anywhere.”
While parts of the state received beneficial rains, the combination of drought and extremely cold temperatures may have done some damage to winter wheat throughout the Texas High Plains, according to Clark Neely, AgriLife Extension small grains specialist in College Station.
“Unfortunately, the High Plains received little of these beneficial rains, and wheat producers struggled to get their crop up and out of the ground this fall,” Neely said. “Drought-stressed wheat also had to endure frigid temperatures during the past month, which have some concerned about the possibility of winterkill on small wheat.”
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.