Though it may seem like a return of Dust Bowl days to some Texas High Plains farmers and ranchers, we’re not there yet — at least not quite, according to Dr. John Neilsen-Gammon, state climatologist, College Station.
However, this week’s reports from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county agents do give evidence of some very difficult working conditions for producers in the Panhandle, South Plains and Rolling Plains regions.
Mark Brown, AgriLife Extension agent for Lubbock County, reported only a trace of moisture for March with sustained high winds and gusts of 58 mph on March 18 accompanied by blowing dust.
Rick Auckerman, AgriLife Extension agent for Deaf Smith County in the western Panhandle, said wind speeds of 30 to 50 mph bore down on the county for most of the week, and producers were running out of tools to stop soil from blowing away.
Jerry Coplen, AgriLife Extension agent for Knox County, west of Wichita Falls, noted cotton producers were trying to prepare planting beds in between dust storms.
Nielsen-Gammon said, “Over the past few weeks, the dust seems to be mainly picked up from southeastern Colorado and eastern New Mexico, so we’re not having a problem with widespread soil loss in Texas so far, but it’s something that could happen if conditions don’t allow for spring green-up, which they haven’t yet.”
Auckerman noted that though it may feel like a return of the Dust Bowl days as fences are being covered up by sand and dirt in Deaf Smith County, modern producers have a lot more tools to fight blows, including U.S. Department of Agriculture Conservation Reserve Program grassland.
But on much of regular farmland, there isn’t a lot of growth to hold the dirt in place, Auckerman said.
There hasn’t been green-up of grasses because December through February have been the tenth driest on record in the last ten years, Nielsen-Gammon said. And March doesn’t seem be turning that trend around.
“The last time it was drier (the first quarter of the year) was in 1996, which was the start of this string of droughts that we’ve been having,” he said.
The other issue that continues to hover critically on the horizon is a possible battle between towns and agriculture over extremely limited reservoir levels, Nielsen-Gammon said.
“Reservoir levels are lower this time of year than they have been previously during this drought,” he said. “If we don’t see summer months of more than average rainfall, we will likely see conflicts between agricultural and municipal/industrial uses.”
On a good news note, the Southern and Southeastern parts of the state are doing much better, he said. And parts of West Texas have gotten some decent rains during the past year.
“But most of the Panhandle has averaged less than 50 percent of normal for the last three years,” Nielsen-Gammon 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/ .