COLLEGE STATION — Tropical storms Charlie and Frances recently poured much needed rainfall into parts of Texas; however, for many agricultural producers all over the state, the drought is not over.
“Much of the northwestern part of the state did not receive any of the rainfall, and it is still in the midst of a serious drought,” said Dr. Carl Anderson, agricultural economist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.
Much of the area east of Interstate Highway 35 and south of a line from Temple to Del Rio received rainfall in August and September. However, the rest of the state did not benefit, and the rains have not been enough to break the drought in any region, the economist said.
While estimates of drought-related losses remained at $2.1 billion loss for producers, with a statewide economic impact of $5.8 billion, there is still potential for loss estimates to climb, Anderson said.
Continuing drought conditions in the Panhandle and in the Rolling Plains region around Wichita Falls could still lead to further crop losses. In particular, the lack of rainfall has prevented the early seeding of traditional winter wheat pastures.
These planting delays are already serious enough that they will cause financial losses for cow/calf and stocker cattle operations that were counting on the wheat pasture for grazing this fall and winter, said Dr. Mark Waller, Extension agricultural economist.
“If rain does not begin to fall soon, ranchers will not only suffer substantial grazing losses, but 1999 wheat yields could also be adversely affected,” Waller said.
In the Rolling Plains, for example, the soil profile is dry to at least three feet in most places, said Extension entomologist Emory Boring.
Wise and Montague counties at the eastern edge of the Rolling Plains recently received rains of 1 to 11/2 inches, he said, but many areas have received only isolated thundershowers since April.
That is not good news for wheat farmers in the area. Growers in that region traditionally plant more than one million acres of wheat from September to November to capitalize on fall rains. It is the areas number one crop and is grown either for cattle grazing or for human consumption, Boring said. Some producers have “dusted” in wheat seed, planting dryland acreage, but most are waiting for rain.
“We need to fill the soil profile. We need six inches of rain and then need another rain after that,” Boring said. “Were a long way from coming out of the drought.”
Statewide, the cotton crop is estimated at 3 million bales, the smallest since 1989, Anderson said.
“Much of the dryland crop was lost before harvest,” he said. “Yields on remaining dryland are poor, and the quality is below normal. Irrigated acreage will account for about two-thirds of the production.”
In the Rio Grande Valley, Dr. Jason Johnson, Extension agricultural economist, said tropical storm Frances was a “drought-denting rain.”
“I cant say the drought is over, but our situation has improved dramatically since the middle of August,” he said. Since then, the capacity of Lakes Amistad and Falcon — major reservoirs for the area — has increased from 19 percent to 33 percent, providing irrigation water for fall vegetables.
The rainfall will improve soil moisture conditions for farmers planting fall vegetables and row crops, he said.
The Valley produces about 40 varieties of vegetables that are shipped all over the United States. It ranks sixth in the nation for onion production and second in cabbage production.
The increase in reservoir water, Johnson said, has encouraged producers to plant. Few farmers wanted to plant vegetables that might cost them $2,000 an acre to produce when they might not have enough irrigation water to carry them through, he said.
Citrus also will benefit from the rainfall, Johnson said, but estimates will have to wait until producers begin harvesting in mid-October.
“There was significant damage done to the trees during the drought, especially in irrigation districts where the water was cut off. Well be fortunate to surpass last years production, given the damage that occurred.” The Valley produced more than 130 million pounds of oranges and 384 million pounds of grapefruit last year.
Even though rains were too late to help most field crops, they have helped improve grazing conditions.
“Green grass is a welcome sight to ranchers and may help their pastures recover to some extent as we head into the winter months,” said economist Mark Waller. “With hay reserves depleted, many ranchers will still have a difficult time finding enough forage to feed their cattle through the winter.”
Ranchers in Grimes County, which ranks 10th in the state in number of beef cattle, welcomed the rain, said Rodney Finch, county Extension agent. That county, located about 75 miles north of Houston, received from 6 to 14 inches from tropical storm Frances, enabling producers there to begin planting rye, wheat and oats for winter pastures.
“It was a good slow soaking rain; however, were still not where need to be at this stage of the game,” he said, noting that stock tanks remain down.
“We are going to need more rain in the near future,” he said. “We had 100-degree days early in May that stayed until September, so what moisture we had was sucked right out.”
With cooler temperatures and more rain, he said, “were going be setting pretty good.”