Too dry in large parts of the state to plant supplemental food plots for deer
Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE STATION – “Caught between a rock and a hard place.”
That’s how a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service wildlife specialist describes landowners in the eastern third of the state who want to plant supplemental food plots for white-tailed deer this fall.
“The ideal planting date for establishing supplemental food plots is about Labor Day,” said Dr. Billy Higginbotham, AgriLife Extension Service wildlife specialist, Overton. “But it’s been too dry to get small grains like oats, rye and wheat up in time for the opening of hunting season.”
Landowners can plant now in dry soil and hope for enough rain not only to get the crop emerged but also to sustain growth, Higginbotham said. Or they can wait for the wetter-than-normal weather that’s predicted to start in October this year.
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Either way, they are fast running out of time, Higginbotham said. Archery-only season begins on Oct. 3 and runs through Nov. 6. Regular firearm hunting season starts Nov. 7 and lasts through Jan. 3 in the northern part of the state, and Jan. 17 in the southern part.
Neither planting now or waiting later are attractive options for hunters this year, he said. This is because supplemental food plots are usually planted not just to improve the nutrition for white-tailed deer but also to draw them out of cover for harvest during rut.
“This is not to say that white-tailed deer do not need supplemental nutrition,” Higginbotham said. “To the contrary, it’s critical, as much of the southeastern deer range, including East Texas, provides substandard nutrition for the white-tailed during the warm- and cool-season stress periods in July and August, and January and February, respectively.
“By increasing the nutritional plane for white-tails during these critical stress periods, landowners and managers can positively impact fawn production and survival, body weights and antler production, especially when practiced in concert with other habitat enhancements such as the use of prescribed fire and timber stand improvements.”
But for many landowners, whether they hunt themselves or lease land for hunting, it is advantageous to seek mature bucks during the rut, which usually occurs during the first two weeks of November, according to Higginbotham.
Even if landowners planted now and saw the best-case scenario — getting good rains soon — early forage growth will be lost, and the standing crop of small-grain forage will be shorter than optimal by the opening of gun season, he said.
And in the worst-case scenario, the soil moisture present might just be wet enough to get the crop emerged, then turn dry again, Higginbotham said. In this case, the newly emerged seedlings would die and the crop lost.
Despite the drawbacks, Higginbotham advises planting as soon as conditions improve.
“Regardless of the poor planting conditions presently found in most of the East Texas deer habitat, cool-season forages should still be established as soon as conditions permit,” he said. “These forages, while perhaps low in availability for the early part of deer season, will still provide excellent nutrition to supplement the deer’s native diets in the cool-season stress period of January and February.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Central: Mornings and afternoons were cooler. Soil moisture, rangeland, pastures and crops were in fair condition. Livestock were in good condition. The region remained dry. Farmers and ranchers were preparing fields for planting, with some operators planting winter grazing for stocker cattle. Cotton growers were harvesting, with average yields so far. Ryegrass plantings began germinating.
Coastal Bend: Temperatures were average for the season. Scattered showers and heavier rains fell in some areas. In places, the rains saturated soils. The cotton harvest continued but was expected to be wrapped up in a few weeks as only a few late-planted fields remained to be picked. Yields were good for the most part. The soybean harvest was delayed by wet conditions. Pastures were lush green, with hay being cut where producers were able to get into fields. Cattle were fat and in good condition. Herd numbers were on the rebound. Mosquito activity picked up.
East: The region continued to dry out. Most counties rated subsoil and topsoil moisture as mainly short, with a few counties reporting very short. Small pond levels were dropping. Truck farmers were harvesting the last of peas and tomatoes. Fall vegetable planting continued despite dry conditions. Some producers still hoped for rain to freshen up hay meadows for another hay cutting. Others were preparing to over-seed for winter pasture. Trinity County livestock producers were searching out-of-county for hay to buy. Armyworm infestations were reported. Livestock were in fair to good condition, with some producers providing supplemental feed. Calf weaning and cow culling continued. In the cattle market, head counts were up, but prices were down. Feral hogs continued to be a problem.
Far West: Hot and dry conditions prevailed over most of the district, with the exception of parts of Culberson County that received 2.8 inches of rain. Pasture and rangeland were in very poor to fair condition. Topsoil and subsoil moisture was short to adequate. Upland cotton was in good condition, with most fields setting bolls. In Glasscock and Martin counties, the sorghum crop harvest was completed with good yields. The flow from Elephant Butte Dam in El Paso County will be closed on Sept. 28, which marks the end to the irrigation season for the area. Cattle were in good condition.
North: Topsoil moisture varied from very short to adequate. The weather was slightly cooler. Nighttime temperatures were in the mid-60s. A cool front brought about 0.5 inch of rain to some areas. Pastures declined; grasses needed moisture to green up for the last part of the growing season. Hay producers were scrambling to get a last cutting. Winter wheat and pasture growers were preparing ground for planting. Livestock were doing well. Spring-born calves were being weaned. Pond levels were dropping. Armyworms hit some areas area pretty hard. Feral hog activity was on the rise. Pecan growers were expecting a good crop.
Panhandle: The region was hot, dry and windy most of the week, with cooler temperatures coming over the weekend. Some areas received rain. Parts of Collingsworth County received hail along with the rain. The peanut harvest was about to start there. Deaf Smith County producers were harvesting silage, with cutters and trucks running hard and fast. Corn that had been hailed out was for the most part chopped for silage, with below-average tonnage. Some early planted corn was being harvested for grain with good yields being reported. Grain sorghum fields were being treated for sugarcane aphids, with many fields being treated for the second time. Sunflowers that survived the previous hailstorms were two weeks or more from being ready for harvest. Producers were still haying as fast as possible. Winter wheat plantings started, but many producers were choosing to wait to get around the grasshopper problems. The Hansford County corn harvest started with good early yields. Grain sorghum was changing color; some fields were still being irrigated. Cotton looked good. Ochiltree County producers stopped irrigation on all crops. Because topsoil moisture was low, wheat planting started up slowly. Some producers were spraying for headworms in grain sorghum. Sugarcane aphid pressured dropped. Harvesting of early planted corn in Ochiltree County was expected to start soon. Wheeler County producers will begin planting wheat soon. Cotton there was beginning to open bolls. Sugarcane aphids were still a problem in some sorghum fields.
Rolling Plains: The region was hot and mostly dry. Rain had been forecast, but only a few areas saw any moisture. Lakes and stock-water tanks were still in good shape, but soil moisture was quickly evaporating. Some wheat producers continued to hold off on planting, waiting on measurable moisture. Other producers were dry planting. Dry conditions persisted, preventing some cotton from finishing. Cattle on rangeland were in fair to good condition. Producers were ramping up supplemental feeding and moving cattle around to pastures and/or wheat ground that had yet to be grazed. Hay supplies remained high, but producers are trying to conserve stocks for winter. Wildfire danger increased as pastures and rangelands began to dry out.
South: Daytime temperatures were in the 90s to 100s, and humidity was high. A few scattered showers fell across parts of the region. In the northern part of the district, cotton harvesting continued throughout the area, as well as some fieldwork for wheat planting. In Frio County, irrigated peanuts continued to develop thanks to hot weather. Supplemental feeding of livestock increased, and cattle body-condition scores remained fair. Soil moisture was adequate in Atascosa and La Salle counties, and short to very short in Frio and McMullen counties. In the eastern part of the district, some areas received from 2 to 3 inches of rain, which significantly improved rangeland and pastures. The rains stopped cotton harvesting though, but less than 10 percent of the cotton remained in fields. Soil moisture was adequate in Duval and Jim Wells counties, and short in Jim Hogg, Kleberg and Kenedy counties. In the western part of the district, pecan harvesting also continued in Maverick County, but yields were lower than expected. In Zavala County, oat and wheat planting was delayed due to lack of good soil moisture. Producers with irrigation capacity were pre-plant watering oat and wheat fields in order to get crop production started. Also in Zavala County, spinach planting was expected to begin soon, and cotton harvesting was very active, with gins running at maximum capacity. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued because of the dry condition of native rangeland and pastures. Soil moisture was short to very short in Dimmit, Maverick and Zavala counties. In the southern part of the district, Cameron County onions and tomatoes were in good condition. In Hidalgo County, cotton harvesting was at a standstill due to frequent rains. In Starr County, fall planting preparations were ongoing. Topsoil moisture was adequate in Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr counties.
South Plains: Most of the region remained dry. Bailey County corn harvesting was ongoing. Cochran County subsoil and topsoil moisture was dropping. Producers there were harvesting corn, and the pea and peanut harvests were expected to begin in the next couple of weeks. Cotton, sorghum and sunflowers were maturing. On Sept. 18, Lubbock County had a high of 100 degrees; the same evening, a cool front brought light showers and gusty winds. The corn and sorghum harvests there continued at a rapid pace. Cotton was opening bolls thanks to above-average heat unit accumulation. Cotton growers were planning to apply defoliants soon. The Garza County cotton crop was slowly progressing but was showing signs of moisture stress. Most of the Garza County cotton crop remained a little bit behind due to delayed planting. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in good to excellent condition.
Southeast: Soil moisture throughout the region varied widely but was mostly in the short to very short range with short being the most common. However, Fort Bend and San Jacinto counties got good rains and had adequate moisture levels. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, mostly from fair to poor, with fair ratings being the most common. Montgomery County received isolated showers. Brazoria County got heavy rains. In Chambers County, the rice harvest was slowly wrapping up. Late-planted organic rice will not be ready to harvest for two to four weeks. In Fort Bend County, drier weather was welcomed after earlier rains delayed cotton harvesting. Livestock were in good condition with grass responding well to the earlier rains.
Southwest: Dry weather continued, and there were no forecasts of any substantial rain in the near future. Vegetable crops were doing extremely well despite the dry weather. All grass quit growing. The planting window for cool-season grass for winter grazing was about to close, but producers didn’t want to plant in dry conditions. Some livestock operations began supplemental feeding of cattle. Sheep and goat prices stayed high, but cattle prices dipped. Fall weaning of calves and shipping of cattle continued.
West Central: Hot, dry, windy conditions prevailed. Daytime temperatures remained in the mid- to lower-90s, but nights were getting cooler. A few areas got scattered showers, which was welcomed as it increased soil moisture for fall planting. Most wheat growers were waiting for more moisture before planting. Cotton was rapidly maturing, and producers were applying harvest aids. Some cotton plants were opening bolls. Crops were showing signs of heat and moisture stress. Hay producers continued cutting and baling operations. Rangeland and pastures remained in fair condition. Grasses in some areas were showing extreme stress from lack of moisture. The rangeland wildfire danger was extreme. Some livestock producers were providing supplemental feed to cattle. Livestock remained in fair to good condition.