COLLEGE STATION – Despite drought, record-high summer temperatures, an early freeze and the failure of many dryland fields, the Texas High Plains cotton crop could wind up being near or slightly above the 10-year average, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Though the predictions seem contrary to what many expected, they’re based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistical Service’s October surveys of farmers and measurements taken in fields, said Mark Kelley, AgriLife Extension cotton specialist, Lubbock.
“For a 2012 crop, they’re predicting 3.96 million bales produced in the High Plains – that’s in the 1-North (Panhandle) and 1-South (South Plains) districts,” Kelley said. “Looking back to ‘98, when I first came out here, to 2011, we had an average of 3.59 million bales. And for the last 10 years, the average was 3.89 million. So according to that, we’re going to be just slightly above the 10-year average.
Though many dryland acres failed in the Texas High Plains because of the drought and heat, he said the irrigated yields that he’s seeing this year are pretty good.
“A lot of it is up around the two-bale (per acre) mark, and then there’s some that’s coming in even higher than that, where they’ve got good water and timely rainfall events,” Kelley said.
There was late-planted cotton that was “dinged pretty good” by an early freeze, but much of the crop seemed to escape major damage, he said.
“I’ve been pleasantly pleased with some of the results,” Kelley said. “Even after the freeze, the bolls were opening up at some of these locations. Of course, there is still some out there where the top bolls are having a tough time getting open.”
Kelley warned that anyone’s predictions this year may not hold up.
“Some of these fields are doing a lot better than expected. Some are doing a lot worse,” he said.
Statewide, the USDA predicts the 2012 cotton crop to total 6.1 million bales, 74 percent higher than 2011, a year of severe drought. Over the last 10 years, total bales produced has ranged from a low of 3.5 million in 2011, to a high of 8.25 million bales in 2007.
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 for the week of Oct. 15-22:
The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Districts
Central: Scattered showers promoted the growth of small grains. Wheat, rye and oats were coming on. Some fields were expected to be ready for grazing by early November. A few calves were already grazing. With continued warm weather, pastures were expected to recover somewhat from the drought. Producers battled armyworms, blight and aphids. Pecans were in extremely good condition.
Coastal Bend: Washington County pecan growers reported many pecans were sprouting going into harvest, but there were few problems with stinkbugs or pecan scab. Some hay producers were using aeration equipment to prepare the ground for planting oats for winter grazing. Wharton County reported widespread rain and fieldwork continuing across the county. The cotton harvest was complete. Farmers have been preparing land and planting winter pastures actively since mid-October, and were expected to continue into November. Armyworm activity was reported in the area, which may warrant late planting of ryegrass. Karnes County producers were actively spraying armyworms. Other areas reported above-normal temperatures for most of the week, with some record highs broken. Soils remained moisture-starved and pasture grasses needed rain. Farmers continued tilling cropland, mostly to plow out cotton seedlings that emerged after recent rains. Cotton farmers were shredding stalks. Some hay producers were taking a third cutting. Livestock were doing well.
East: The region received scattered showers, with rainfall for the month-to-date above average in most areas. Cooler temperatures slowed grass growth in pastures and hay meadows. Some producers were still baling hay, with quality fair to good — some excellent. Soil-moisture levels remained good. Winter pasture planting was in full swing. Dryland cotton was yielding 1.25 to two bales per acre, and irrigated cotton 2.25 to 2.5 bales per acre. Producers continued weaning and selling market-ready calves and cull cows. Cattle were in good to excellent condition, and some producers were supplementing with protein. Reports of horn flies and heel flies increased. Feral hog activity was reported.
The upper bolls on this South Plains cotton crop show freeze damage and may never open, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service cotton expert. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Mark Kelley)
Far West: Highs were in the upper-80s to lower-90s, with lows in the upper-50s and lower-60s. Crane County rangeland continued to improve after rains earlier in the month. Because of recent rains, many types of forage in Winkler County were showing new growth, and trees and shrubs were thick with green leaves. In Andrews County, winter grains were in fair to good shape, with some early planted fields nearly ready to graze. Grass continued to cure in Presidio County. Pecan producers there were getting ready to harvest, and the cotton harvest was under way. Winkler County reported pastures looked great because of the limited number of cattle left after last year’s drought. Cows were in decent shape going into winter. However, producers were beginning supplemental feeding to maintain livestock condition.
North: From 1 inch to 3 inches of rain fell across the region, and soil-moisture levels ranged from short to surplus. This prompted farmers and ranchers to return to planting small grains and winter annual pastures. Cotton farmers finished harvesting. Hay supplies looked good going into the late fall. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Depending upon the county, from 5 to 90 percent of wheat was planted, and of that already planted, 10 to 50 percent had emerged. From 10 to 90 percent of oats had been planted. The peanut harvest was over, with poor yields reported. Armyworm reports were coming in, and feral hogs remained a problem. Runoff from the rains was limited, and stock ponds remained very low.
Panhandle: Temperatures were near average for most of the week, with some isolated areas having a hard-enough freeze that not all crops will be salvageable. Soil-moisture levels were mostly short. Producers were very busy with the ongoing corn harvest and starting the grain sorghum and cotton harvests. Winter wheat planting was going at a hectic pace after recent rains. Earlier wheat plantings emerged and were growing. Some producers were irrigating early planted wheat to provide grazing for stocker cattle. Cattle remained in good condition, with supplemental feeding continuing.
Rolling Plains: Nighttime temperatures dipped down into the 40s and 50s, but days stayed warm. The warm days helped finish late-planted cotton. Farmers hoped for a late freeze and at least a couple more weeks of semi-warm weather to help finish the crop. The cotton harvest began in some areas; though many dryland acres were zeroed-out by insurance, many irrigated acres were in fair condition. Pastures were in good condition with the recent moisture. Grasses grew rapidly because of the warm weather and decent soil moisture. Cattle were in good condition also. Many producers were weaning and selling calves. Peanut growers were finishing harvesting, with average yields reported. The winter wheat crop was in excellent shape in areas where there was rain before and after planting. The pecan crop looked very good.
South: Above-normal temperatures and high evapotranspiration rates resulted in soil-moisture levels that were short to very short in most of the region. The exceptions were Atascosa, Frio and McMullen counties, with soil-moisture levels as high as 75 percent adequate, and Maverick and Willacy counties with 50 percent adequate soil-moisture levels. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to good condition in the northern counties but declined in other areas because of the above-normal temperatures. A few eastern and western counties saw improvement in pastures and rangeland. Drought conditions in the southern parts of the region continued, except for Willacy County, where rainfall somewhat improved rangeland and pastures. In Atascosa County, farmers were planting oats and wheat, and baling a lot of hay. In Frio County, the peanut crop was about 40 percent harvested. Maverick County farmers were baling forage sorghum and coastal Bermuda grass, and doing field preparation for the next crop cycle. Pecan growers in that area were nearly finished with the harvest and optimistic about yields. In Zavala County, early-planted cabbage fields and fall cucumbers progressed well, spinach was emerging, and pecan harvesting was very active, with little insect pressure. In Hidalgo County, harvesting of early oranges and sugarcane continued.
South Plains: Temperatures were mild, with warm days and cool nights. The region remained dry as cotton and peanut harvests continued. Some dryland fields in the area were zeroed-out by insurance adjusters and were being destroyed. Some irrigated cotton fields were yielding two to three bales per acre. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to good condition, with some recovering from drought damage where there was rain in the past few weeks. Livestock were in mostly good condition. Sorghum was maturing and should be ready to harvest. The cotton harvest wound down. In Hale County, there was some freeze damage to late-planted sorghum from the Oct. 8 freeze. The pumpkin harvest in Floyd County was nearly finished.
Southeast: Grimes County had heavy rains last weekend and moderate showers throughout the rest of the week. Temperatures were above average. In Montgomery County, the rains promoted the establishment of winter annuals. Hay baling there was coming to a close. In San Jacinto County, annual ryegrass planted in the past few weeks was emerging. Waller County had cooler temperatures after the showers. In Burleson County, rains across the area provided much-needed relief for pastures and newly established small grains. Insect pressure was minimal. Chambers County began harvesting first-crop rice, while ratoon rice fields were expected to be harvested from the end of October and into Thanksgiving. Jefferson County had scattered rains throughout the early part of the week. Lows in that area were in the mid-50s and 60s, with highs in the 70s to 80s. Orange County reported good weather for hay harvesting.
Southwest: Pastures greened up after the recent rains and were in good condition. Hay producers were taking the last cutting of the season. The pecan harvest was ongoing. Cool-weather row crops looked good. Fall corn and grain sorghum made good progress. Some winter grains were up and ready for grazing. There were abundant acorns for wildlife. In Medina County, fall armyworms were reported in small grains and warm-season forage crops.
West Central: The area had mild, warm days with very cool nights. A few counties reported scattered rains late in the week. Increased field activity included planting fall and winter crops. The irrigated cotton harvest was in full swing, with below-average yields reported. Some late-season hay baling continued. Rangeland and pasture conditions continued to improve, though warm-season forage growth was slowed by cooler temperatures. Livestock remained in fair to good condition, with supplemental feeding continuing. Many livestock producers were considering re-stocking due to recent substantial rains. Low stock-tank levels remained a concern in some areas where there was no substantial rain. The pecan harvest of later-maturing varieties began. The harvest of early varieties harvest was mostly complete.