Texas crop, weather for Aug. 9, 2011
Is your cup of La Niña half empty or half full?
COLLEGE STATION – Recent predictions by the National Weather Service of a 50 percent chance there will be another La Niña in the southern Pacific Ocean this fall can be taken two ways — with optimism or pessimism, said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas A&M University professor and Texas state climatologist.
Some may view the prediction with a sense of gloom, but before they get too pessimistic, they should remember the Weather Service is saying there’s “only” a 50 percent chance, Nielsen-Gammon said.
The contribution of the very strong La Niña pattern of mid-2010 to the worst drought in Texas history, continues to be felt throughout the state, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel reports.
“To look on the optimistic side, there is an equal 50-percent chance of having no La Niña at this time,” he said. “And even if there is a moderate La Niña, it doesn’t necessarily mean we will definitely have a dry winter again, it just means it will be more likely.”
It’s also important to remember that the large computer models used by the Weather Service are predicting “a weak to moderate” La Niña, Nielsen-Gammon said. “Not nearly as strong as the forecasts were saying at this time last year.”
In comparison, the La Niña that developed in mid 2007 and lasted into 2009, was a moderate one, and though it was associated with a dry summer, it was not nearly so devastating as the current weather pattern, he said.
If you view the cup as half-empty, and assume that we will have another La Niña starting this fall, it still shouldn’t herald as a severely dry year as what we’re currently experiencing, he said.
But, Nielsen-Gammon warned, better than worst doesn’t guarantee the hardship the agricultural sector is experiencing will just go away. Abnormal La Niña or not this fall, a second year of even moderate drought would leave many water supplies in even worse shape.
“We already have had an extremely dry year, so we should see more precipitation next year, but there is still a very good chance it won’t be good enough take us out of the drought, and we will still be having problems with dry conditions even into next summer,” he said.
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:
Central: The drought continued. Hay supplies were very short, cattle were being sold, and pastures and crops were burning up. Trees were showing signs of severe stress. All hay being fed was imported from other states. Stock-tank water levels were very low which was expected to cause the sale of more livestock. Cotton began to show signs of severe moisture distress. Insects and wildlife were searching for moisture and encroaching upon urban areas.
Coastal Bend: Dry and windy conditions persisted, worsening the drought. The cotton harvest continued with fair yields reported. The soybean harvest was nearly completed. Most ponds were extremely low or completely dry. Ranchers continued to supply supplemental feed and water to livestock. Large amounts of hay were being brought in from out of state. Herds were being reduced or sold out entirely.
East: Daytime temperatures in the triple digits and a lack of rain caused the drought to worsen. Water resources drastically receded or dried up completely. Some communities put water-use restrictions into place. Little to no hay has been cut. Producers were looking elsewhere for hay to buy. Some producers have gone as far as the Dakotas trying to find hay. Culling and liquidation of herds continued. Livestock under supplemental feeding were in fair condition. Burn bans remained in place throughout the region.
Far West: Conditions remained hot and dry across the region. Burn bans were still in effect. Pecan and hay producers were irrigating and fertilizing their crops. Pecans were coming out of the water stage and entering the gel stage, but individual trees showed signs of heat stress. Very low wilt and insect pressure was reported on cotton. Pastures and rangeland grasses were super dry and brittle.
North: Conditions continued to worsen. Soil-moisture levels were extremely short, with record high temperatures for the week. Several days of record-breaking temperatures were recorded, overturning highs since recordkeeping began in 1892. Daytime temperatures were in the 100-plus range for days, and nighttime lows in the 80s. The corn harvest was about 90 percent complete, and the grain sorghum harvest was about 50 percent to 60 percent complete. Yields for corn appeared to be about average, and the same held true for grain sorghum. With the extreme heat, pastures were rapidly depleted. Cotton, rice and peanuts were all in very poor condition. Hay was in short supply, and many livestock producers were trying to locate hay to buy. Corn and grain sorghum producers were baling stalks. Stock-water ponds were getting extremely low. Most soybeans were baled or being baled for hay. Since no relief from drought was promised, ranchers further culled herds, resulting in large runs at sale barns. In Van Zandt County, livestock were still being accepted despite news reports that sale barns were requiring appointments. Feral hogs continued to be out of control.
Panhandle: The region remained hot and mostly dry. Some counties reported receiving from a trace to 1 inch of rain. Soil moisture continued to be mostly very poor, and crops were suffering. Producers were diverting water from corn to other crops and less acres. Cotton was in mostly poor to very poor condition. Rangeland and pastures continued to decline. Cattlemen were culling deeper into their herds and trying to find other states with grazing available, where they could ship their cattle.
Rolling Plains: Conditions remained extremely hot and dry, with temperatures surpassing 100 degrees on a daily basis and no moisture. Pastures, crops, livestock and residents were all suffering. Most of this year’s cotton crop was already “disastered-out” for crop insurance, with only irrigated cotton left. And some irrigated cotton was beginning to show signs of playing out with plants blooming at the tops. Farmers couldn’t put enough water out to meet the crops’ needs. Pastures also were in bad condition. Two large area ranches secured leases in Wyoming and Nebraska, and planned to move more than half their brood herds to those areas. Other producers were liquidating herds as the drought lagged on. Forages that had been planted and germinated died. Producers that still had cattle were moving them around trying to find greener grass and feeding supplements on a daily basis. Many ranchers who had already culled cattle and shipped calves early were still trying to hold on to a few head in hopes some relief will come soon. Many producers had not yet begun to prepare their fields for wheat planting. Pecan trees and fruit trees were being watered.
South: Extremely hot temperatures continued to torture rangeland, pastures, crops and livestock throughout the entire region. The northern counties reported highs of 100 to 104 degrees. Soil-moisture levels remained very short throughout most counties. The exceptions were Hidalgo County, where they were 40 percent adequate, and Willacy County with 75 percent adequate. Rangeland and pastures were in desperate need of rain to help recuperate from poor to very poor conditions. Livestock producers continued to search for supplemental feed sources as hay supplies continued to decline. Amazingly, overall cattle body-condition scores were still fair. Many ranchers were selling out completely, especially in Webb and Live Oak counties. Irrigated cotton and peanuts were progressing well in the Atascosa County area. In Jim Wells County, the cotton harvest was approximately 95 percent finished. Cotton harvesting was also wrapped up in Live Oak County, with yields of one to 1.5 bales per acre. In Zavala County, growers were off to a good start preplanting cabbage, onion, spinach and other cool-season vegetables under heavy irrigation. In Cameron and Hidalgo counties, the cotton harvesting was ongoing, and sugarcane growers were actively irrigating because of 100-plus degree temperatures.
South Plains: All counties remained under burn bans. There were continued high temperatures in the triple digits, averaging 27 heat units per day, with little to no rainfall. The remaining irrigated crops were stressed. Many cotton fields were rapidly moving into cut-out stage, and some growers now expect to harvest in September. The big question for producers was when to terminate irrigation without risking significant yield and quality loss. Cattle were being sold off due to lack of forage and short supplies of hay and water. Some locations are relying on miles of water lines to supply cattle. Local state and federal committees were applying for U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency Emergency Conservation Program aid for waterlines, wells and trough construction.
Southeast: Weather remained hot and dry throughout the region. Most stock tanks were nearly dry in Burleson County.
Southwest: The region remained almost completely dry. Record high or near-record high temperatures of above 100 degrees aggravated the drought. The entire region remained in wildfire-alert status. Many stock tanks were dry and water levels of some wells were low. Forage availability remained far below average for this time of the year. The corn and sorghum harvests were finished. The cotton, watermelon and cantaloupe harvests were ongoing. Some sweet corn was planted for an early fall harvest. Peanuts, pecans and landscape nursery crops continue to make good progress wherever irrigation water was still available. Ranchers continued to provide supplemental feeding for livestock.
West Central: Extremely hot, dry conditions prevailed with no relief forecast. Record-breaking temperatures took a toll on crops, livestock, pastures and wildlife throughout the region. Irrigated cotton remained in fair condition, but producers were having a hard time keeping up with water demands. Some irrigation wells went dry. Other field crops failed, and producers were making insurance claims. Pastures and rangeland were in poor condition. Most producers were out of grazing and water for livestock, and they continued to cull herds. More ranchers were selling out entirely.
Photo 1: A farmer disks corn stubble in the Texas Blacklands. Most corn in the area either failed or had extremely low yields, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo by Robert Burns.)
Photo 2: The 12 Texas AgriLife Extension Service districts.