CHICAGO (B)--Farmers are not only planting corn in Texas' Coastal Bend and Rio Grande Valley, but also in the extreme southern tip of the state the first fields of the 2000-01 crop are up.

Those who took advantage of adequate topsoil moisture and warm soil temperatures in late January now have green shoots sprouting. "Lots of farmers have some moisture to plant in, but they will need additional moisture pretty quick," said Brad Cowan, a county extension agent in the Rio Grande Valley.

Feb. 14 U.S. Department of Agriculture weekly crop update, 1% of the corn crop was planted, compared with 2% a year ago and a five-year average of 1%. Sorghum planting had yet to begin in earnest, although field preparations were well under way.

Cowan said spring planting should be faster than usual in southern Texas because of dry conditions, although some farmers were still waiting for enough moisture to ensure emergence before risking their seed.

"We are off to a rapid start since we have had above-average temperatures plus some moisture to work with, but there are still lots waiting for planting moisture," he said, and those who do have corn in the ground will need additional rain pretty quick.

"We have corn, cotton and sorghum all going in," he said, anticipating 50,000 to 75,000 acres in corn in his area, about the same as the year before.

However, subsoil moisture levels are below normal and the entire state could use more rain. USDA reported below-normal precipitation throughout Texas for November through January. Rainfall for the south Texas region was 23% of normal during this period; south-central Texas had 29% of normal rain, the Lower Valley 40% and the Upper Coast 40%.

A small amount of genetically altered corn is grown in Texas, but little switching to traditional hybrids is expected because the number of acres involved is so small.

Most of the corn grown in southern Texas is fed locally or shipped to Mexico's feedlot industry.

In 1999, Texas planted 1.95 million acres of corn and produced 228 million bushels.

Dry conditions have wiped out some wheat fields entirely, with oats generally in poor condition across the state.

Pasture and range land were rated 71% poor to very poor, with herd reduction and supplemental feeding recommended for livestock.

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