What is in this article?:
• Rare exceptions show crop promise.
• Some areas have had no rain since last fall.
• Two million acres of cotton in jeopardy in high Plains
The Southwest has not had to endure all the 10 plagues of Egypt this growing season but there have been enough to test most folks’ religion just with dust, wind, drought and wildfires that, all combined, will result in millions of dollars of crop losses before harvests conclude.
A few areas have received rain in the past few weeks but recent reports indicate all areas of Texas and most of the rest of the region remain under at least some category of drought. Most of Texas and Oklahoma qualify in a severe to exceptional drought status.
As Terry McCalister, who farms between Wichita Falls and Vernon, says, “It’s BAD in north Texas.
“We finished wheat harvest today, and yields generally ran from 2 bushels to 10 bushels per acre,” he said. “We had a couple of ‘outstanding’ fields that made 20 bushels but they were the exception. We should not have cut some of these fields, as they were worse than we thought, but we owned two combines and had already made the decision to just run over the acres. Sometimes in disgust you do foolish things.”
He’s lived with drought for most of the year, actually going back to last fall.
“We received 1.5 inches of rain May 19, which is the only appreciable moisture we’ve had since November. We jumped in the fields May 22-23, planting sesame and hay. With 100-plus-degree temperatures and 30-plus mile-per-hour winds, the moisture was gone before most of the seed sprouted. Some of it came up but it is not a good stand.
“We don’t have moisture to get cotton up, and the forecast is not in our favor. Our final plant date for cotton is June 20. We plan to wait until about June 13 to start putting seed in the ground. Then it will be out of our hands. If it rains and comes up, great, and, if not, we’ll be begging at the feet of our insurance company for a check!”
Wildfires have added to McAlister’s woes.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time fighting grass fires as there is usually one every day somewhere,” he said. He can’t remember a worse drought.
“This is as bad a situation as I have ever seen in north Texas. We have a lot of stock water because we cleaned several ponds 8 to 10 years ago, but it won’t be long before there’ll be no grass and little water. The fact that we are entering that time of summer when there are rarely any drought-breaking rains is also of great concern.”
It’s not much better in southwest Oklahoma.
Keeff Felty, who farms near Altus, says conditions are dry and summer heat and high winds are taking a toll.
“Right now it is 99 degrees with wind from the south at 20 miles per hour and gusts to 30.”
Recent rains gave them some hope, for a little while.
“We had 1.2 to 4 inches of rain about two weeks ago,” Felty said. “Some cotton was dry planted and dried out again before it had a chance to sprout. Some sprouted and died. Some made it, but the moisture did not meet below it.”
He said the irrigation district released lake water May 31. “We have been allocated 6 inches for the year. It will take most of that on the first watering.”
Felty said most of the irrigated cotton has been planted. “Wheat harvest is basically over. The yields ranged from 5 bushels to 40 bushels per acre. Most were averaging around 20 to 24.”
Northeast Texas may be the most promising spot in the region, says Jim Swart, Texas AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist.
“The wheat crop is very good with many growers averaging around 60 bushels per acre,” Swart said. “We are about halfway through harvest. The corn and grain sorghum crops are promising and look very good at this time.”
The area has received what growers refer to as “adequate rainfall,” since early spring.