A heat wave across the state is exacerbating the extreme drought conditions plaguing Texas agriculture.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agents and regional specialists around the state have reported a wide range of issues related to triple-digit temperatures and worsening conditions for livestock and crop producers. There are reports of poor forage and growing conditions throughout the state, including failed to stunted plants and lower yield expectations on crops ranging from sorghum, cotton, peanuts and pecans.
Livestock producers in drier areas of the state have been weaning and marketing calves earlier and culling herds deeper than usual. There are also reports of herd consolidations occurring. The main factor driving higher and earlier cattle sale volumes is poor spring forage production from lack of rainfall and the high cost of supplemental feed.
Hay supplies are tightening and cuttings have been well below average in most parts of the state so far. Declining surface water and poor water quality in stock ponds and tanks is becoming a wider issue for many producers.
The extent of drought is driving local governments to implement restrictions on activities, including water consumption and outdoor burning.
Irrigation water for agriculture is also falling under use-restrictions that limit applications to crops like cotton and pecans due to below-normal water levels in reservoirs and aquifers that desperately need runoff rainfall to recharge.
Reagan Noland, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension agronomist, San Angelo, said the high temperatures and dry soil are leading to widespread crop failures even in some irrigated fields. There are no water restrictions on wells that pull from the aquifer for agriculture in that area.
Noland said his area had good rain until mid-August last year but received no appreciable rain between late October and late May. When the area did pick up a 2-inch rain around May 22, Noland said high temperatures and wind left muddy fields powder dry within days.
“I hoped the rain in late May would provide a decent opportunity to plant cotton, but it wasn’t enough. Our subsoil moisture was too depleted for any planting moisture to persist,” he said. “Some irrigated fields looked OK, but most dryland crop acres never established at all, or seedlings burned up in the heat.”
Heat wave delivers 100-degree days
John Nielsen-Gammon, Ph.D., state climatologist in the Texas A&M College of Geosciences Department of Atmospheric Sciences, said much of Texas has been experiencing above-average temperatures for months.
South and Central Texas has been exceptionally hot this year, he said. San Antonio recorded 32 days over 100 degrees so far. The previous record for 100-degree days by this time of year in the city was 20 days in 2009. College Station has experienced 23 days with 100-degree temperatures, which is also more than ever recorded.
Statewide, the Big Bend region has seen 78 days of triple-digit temperatures. Other notable locations with 100-degree days include Cotulla with 62, Laredo with 57, Del Rio with 48, Abilene with 45, and San Angelo with 44.
San Angelo is almost on pace with 2011 for 100-degree days. The city recorded 46 days over 100 degrees by this time and ended that year with 100 days over 100 degrees, he said.
Multiple factors aligned to produce the high temperatures Texas is experiencing this summer, he said, including the early arrival of high temperatures. Locations in much of the state recorded record or near-record May temperatures that were above typical June average temperatures.
Above-average spring temperatures and drought conditions compounded environmental effects on summer temperatures. The lack of moisture means there is less evaporative cooling, and more of the sun’s energy heats the ground which heats the air.
Nielsen-Gammon said the water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico are also well above normal. Most spring and summer air circulates into the state from the Gulf, and warmer conditions there translate into warmer air as it moves through the state.
Heat waves like the one Texas is experiencing are related to weather patterns that create a dome of high pressure over the state or to the north, he said. The pattern prevents the flow of moist, tropical air and instead delivers air that has been sitting over the state or other hot areas around Texas.
No relief in sight
Nielsen-Gammon expects summer temperatures to remain above normal as soils continue to lose moisture and retain heat.
“Unfortunately, the very hottest temperatures typically occur later in the summer, so off hand, I don’t see any relief in the future,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “It looks dismal for the next couple of weeks.”
Nielsen-Gammon said a looming tropical disturbance could deliver some moisture to Louisiana and southeast Texas, but most of the state is likely to remain dry and hot.
According to U.S. drought monitor archives, 100% of Texas experienced at least abnormally dry conditions with almost 72% experiencing exceptional drought conditions. The 2011 drought conditions peaked in October when 88% of the state was exceptionally dry while 97% of the state was in extreme to exceptional drought.
Almost 98% of Texas is abnormally dry, but only 46% of the state is experiencing extreme to exceptional drought and 16% of the state suffering exceptional drought, according to the drought monitor. But it is a hard sell to tell many agriculture producers and farmers across Texas that 2022 has been better.
Much of the state has received some scattered rain since January, Nielsen-Gammon said, but a few areas have received less moisture than in 2011. Corsicana, for example, has received less than 20 inches of rainfall since Sept. 1, compared to nearly 25 inches over the same period in 2010-2011.
“There are definitely people who would take issue with anyone saying conditions are better in 2022 than in 2011,” he said. “For some, the impacts are going to be worse.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Extremely dry conditions dominated the area. Soil moisture levels were very short. An unrelenting streak of record heat and dry conditions continued with more than 30 days of temperatures exceeding 100 degrees. Stock tanks were seriously low or dry. Overall rangeland and pasture conditions were very poor. Hay prices were escalating. Producers were selling livestock due to the extreme drought conditions, and body conditions were fair. Crop conditions were poor overall. Crop yield expectations were all over the board but trending lower than previous years. Corn harvest continued, and yields were widely variable. Sorghum was maturing rapidly. Cotton growth and development was slowing, and fields were showing visible drought stress.
Soil moisture was short, but some isolated showers were reported. Temperatures reached 105 degrees. Haygrazer and cotton were planted. Some fields were lost to drought and heat already. Irrigated fields were doing well with dryland fields suffering. Corn and sorghum were suffering, but some sorghum fields looked average and were starting to head out. Cinch bugs and minor worm pressure was growing in sorghum. Some producers were cutting corn and sorghum fields for silage. Dryland cotton had mostly failed. Irrigated cotton was struggling and in poor to fair condition. Smartweed borer moths and flea hoppers were noted in irrigated cotton. Grasshoppers were everywhere. Rangeland and pasture conditions were fair, but livestock tanks needed runoff rainfall to recharge. Cattle were receiving supplemental feed. Culling continued. Coastal Bermuda grass fields were browning under heat and drought. Hay bales were $75-$90 in the field and $90-$130 delivered.
Conditions remained dry with little to no rain reported. Sorghum and corn harvests continued. Sorghum yields were fair to good with some better than anticipated outcomes. Corn yields were poor. Cotton fields were showing signs of stress and plants were dropping leaves in some fields. Some producers were expected to begin defoliation this week. Some rice fields had stem borer pressure already despite insecticide applications. Rangeland and pasture conditions were very dry, and increasing numbers of livestock were taken to market as evaluations and culling continued. Early weaning was also being considered for some livestock producers. Feed and hay continued to be an issue mainly due to economics and tight supplies. Many stock ponds were dry, and others were low with poor water quality.
Extreme drought conditions worsened. Spotty showers fell but did not provide relief. Water levels in creeks and ponds were lower. Hay production came to a halt. Producers were culling herds to lower costs, while others were feeding hay. Sabine County reported producers were getting 75-80% lower hay yields than normal. Pasture and rangeland conditions were very poor to poor. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were very short to short. Corn yields appeared to be average despite the hot, dry weather. Yields of irrigated watermelons also looked to be average with good quality. Grasshoppers and Bermuda grass stem maggots were reported. Wild pigs continued to cause problems.
Conditions were very hot and dry. Some counties received some rain but needed more. Later-planted cotton was beginning to square. Cotton under irrigation was faring well but the dryland fields that remained were struggling. Sorghum was following failed cotton.
Dry conditions persisted with a few small, scattered showers reported. Soil moisture levels were short. Corn was doing well where irrigated but was behind schedule. Cotton was struggling. Winter wheat harvest was pretty much complete with yields well below the normal. Rangeland and pasture conditions were poor.
Topsoil moisture was very short. Temperatures were 100 degrees-plus every day. The heat and drought were hitting producers hard. Crops planted on schedule were still looking good, but later-planted crops were struggling. Most crops were showing some drought stress. Disease and insect pests were holding at low levels due to the dry weather. Corn maturity was occurring quickly. Pastures were browning, and pools were drying down. Hay producers were uncertain about second cuttings if the current dry weather continues. Local cattle sale barns reported a major uptick in the number of animals in recent sales.
Conditions were hot, windy and dry. The Rio Grande Valley received 1-2 inches of rain with more cloud cover than most areas of the district. The average high temperature was 98 degrees with an average low temperature of 75 degrees. Trace amounts of rainfall were reported. Conditions continued to be hot, dry, windy. Mozena obtusa nymphs hit mesquite trees heavily, and there were numerous reports of insects and webs in trees. Cotton was showing a lot of stress. Squaring cotton was using half an inch of water per week, while blooming cotton was using 1.15 inches per week. Irrigation could not meet plant demand. Spider mites were beginning to show up in melon crops. Corn was in poor condition due to lack of pollination. Hay producers were struggling. Small-acreage farmers were struggling to keep watermelons and other fruit and vegetables alive due to the salt levels in the water. The melon harvest continued, but yields were down. Ranchers continued to cull herds and sell due to a lack of grazing and prohibitive feed costs.
An unprecedented heat wave intensified extreme drought conditions, though a few pop-up thunderstorms occurred. Hay was in short supply and costing anywhere from $130-$150 per round bale. A lot of dryland cotton was zeroed out for insurance claims, but some irrigated fields looked fair. Producers were having a hard time irrigating enough. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued with more producers culling herds.
Temperatures were 100-plus degrees each day. Scattered rains provided temporary relief for some crops with up to 0.75 of an inch reported, but some missed out completely. High temperatures and winds were expected to minimize the moisture impact. Crops were struggling. Corn and sorghum harvests were underway with very low yields reported. Cotton was prematurely blooming out of the top, which meant yield potential was likely to be lower. Rangeland and pasture conditions were poor. Hay was starting to arrive from other areas. Heavy supplemental feeding of livestock continued.
Soil moisture levels were very short in most parts of the district, but some southern areas reported adequate moisture. Temperatures were extremely hot and hit triple-digits daily with a high temperature of 108 degrees reported by Frio County. Peanut crops were pegging. Corn was dented, and cotton was setting bolls. Dryland crops were showing drought stress, including leaf wilt. Irrigated crops looked good to excellent. Corn and grain sorghum harvests continued. Cotton fields looked clean with some whitefly and chili thrip pressure reported in fields close to the Rio Grande River. Bolls were opening in early planted cotton, and some drought stress was showing. Citrus and sugarcane continued to receive irrigation. Sesame fields looked clean but needed moisture to make good yields. Crops looked clean but needed some moisture to make good yields. Grazing was limited, and rangeland and pasture conditions continued to decline under hot, dry weather. Supplemental feeding continued for livestock and wildlife. Local producers were reporting higher prices for all feeds, and culling continued as producers calculated hay needs and availability. Irrigated Coastal Bermuda grass was producing good hay bales. Wild pigs were active in suburban areas, looking for food and water.