Agricultural operations in the Texas Panhandle are adjusting to above-average rainfall over the last month that improved soil moisture profiles but is delaying fieldwork, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert. 

Recent rains in the Texas Panhandle have reversed much of the region’s moisture deficit brought on by several years of drought. While beneficial to the long-term prospects for agriculture, heavy rains and soggy conditions are causing planting delays for some producers and destroying crops for others.

The inability to access fields is preventing producers from planting planned crops like cotton and corn. Producers are now assessing field conditions and evaluating their planting options, said Jourdan Bell, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension agronomist, Amarillo.  

Rain challenges producers in Texas Panhandle

Many rainfall events around the Panhandle during May were slow, soil-soaking events that improved the soil moisture profile. Isolated heavy rainfall caused flooding, but the rainfall events that led to catastrophic flooding in towns like Hereford and Amarillo were not the norm for most of the region.

Emerged cotton plants after a heavy rain.
Emerged cotton plants show stress from the continually wet conditions and cooler temperatures. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Jourdan Bell)

Precipitation has consistently fallen throughout the Panhandle since mid-May, so the region is saturated. Hereford received more than 20 inches of rainfall over one month, which is above its average annual precipitation of around 18 inches. The Hereford flooding was also caused by extreme amounts of rainfall in a short time – around 11 inches in two hours in some areas.

The Texas A&M AgriLife Research station at Bushland had received more than 10 inches over the last month, Bell said. Prior to last month, only 0.9 inch of rain was recorded at Bushland from Jan. 1-May 1.

Rainfall in June has continued that cycle. Precipitation amounts were also very sporadic, with some production areas receiving more or less than others nearby. Rain has replenished stock tanks, playa lakes and filled creeks and even lakes that Bell and others have never seen hold water.

Bell said there are still fields with standing water and crops that are likely drowned out. Other planted fields have issues with soil crusting that prevents good crop emergence. Another round of storms on June 11 and June 12 brought hail that impacted many more fields across the entire Panhandle. Cotton fields planted in early May are also developing very slowly because of cool conditions, provided they were not hailed out. Early planted corn looked good if not drowned or hailed out.

“Before the rain, many producers were reevaluating planting decisions because of the drought and declining groundwater, and now it’s been challenging to get in the field and get work done because of the rain,” she said. “And now we are seeing many fields that were not planted or, if planted before the rains, drowned or hailed out. It takes time for fields to dry enough to access, so the challenge for producers is to get their summer crop in before it’s too late.”

Rain impacts on wheat, warm-season crops

Most wheat acres failed earlier in the season due to drought, Bell said. Consistent rains throughout May likely benefitted remaining wheat fields and harvest potential, but grain yield potential was set prior to the recent rainfall.

Bell said a considerable amount of the region’s small grain crops are used for forage, and later-maturing small grain species used for forage, such as triticale, are likely to experience greater boosts in yields compared to earlier-maturing wheat varieties.

Bell said wheat is fortunately not at a stage where producers are concerned about sprouting heads, but there may be some grain test weight losses from widespread leaf diseases like rust. It is too late to spray for foliar diseases, but producers are hopeful the impact on grain weights will be minimal.

The rain’s impact on warm-season crops will be mostly good because fields needed the soil moisture as crops move into hotter summer periods, Bell said. But the consistent rainfall has also led to below-normal temperatures, and cooler conditions have impacted plant development progress because of low heat unit accumulation.

Some producers were able to get cotton planted before the rains began in May, Bell said. But the planting window is closed for Panhandle cotton if it is not in the ground at this point. The dates for crop insurance and late planting have passed, so producers with fields not planted or that need to be replanted will need to evaluate other options.

The soil moisture will be crucial for corn production, but corn can still be risky because of its high moisture requirement if producers have low well capacities, she said. Producers will need to consider earlier-maturing hybrids if planting corn and shift their period of peak water use later.

Sorghum provides flexibility for producers because it can be successfully planted into late June as long as they consider the appropriate maturity class, she said.

“Even though it’s been very wet, we know it can quickly turn very hot and dry,” she said. “The forecast is transitioning into an El Niño, but I do think it is important that producers still consider available moisture and irrigation well capacity when making the final decision.”

Other benefits from rainfall

The rains in May and June are likely to significantly improve forage production and rangeland grazing and browsing for both livestock and wildlife, as well as water availability, Bell said. Summer grasses will likely get a boost from the replenished soil moisture profile.

More than 50% of the acreage in the Panhandle is native rangeland, making those acres an essential resource for livestock, she said. Many of those areas have been locked in drought for multiple years, and the moisture will be very beneficial.

“We tend to focus on crops, but the benefits to rangeland and grasslands are incredibly important,” she said. “Ranchers are also dealing with fences and roads that washed out. Both crop and livestock producers faced damages and losses to the recent rains.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:


A map of the 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension districts.
A map of the 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service districts.

Rainfall was spotty over the past week, and temperatures have risen. Soil moisture levels were adequate to surplus. First cuttings of Bermuda grass were being cut and baled with good yields reported. Wheat and oat harvests were nearly complete. Wheat yields from fields with heavy Hessian fly pressure were one-third lower than fields with little to no insect pressure. Good yields were coming in at 50-70 bushels per acre. The corn crop was in good condition. Grain corn was mostly at the water ripe stage and beginning to color. Sorghum was rapidly reaching the heading stage. Some sesame was being planted following the wheat harvest. Pastures looked good but were covered in weeds. Erath County reported several calls related to hypoxylon canker in oak trees. Algal blooms in ponds increased along with weed pressure. Livestock were in excellent condition. Sheep and goat markets held steady. The cattle market took a slight upturn. Livestock fly numbers remained consistent. Rangeland and pasture conditions were good.


Most areas reported sporadic rainfall throughout the week. Areas that remained dry proceeded with wheat harvest. Many counties reported better-than-expected wheat yields. Cotton planting proceeded in areas dry enough to enter as the planting deadline was set at the end of the month.  


Very hot, dry conditions were reported. Conditions were drying topsoil quickly. Corn was in the dent stage and starting to dry down. Corn looked very good, with significantly higher yield potential over last year. Corn harvest was underway in some areas. Sorghum crops also showed potential for above-average yields, but later planted fields will need more moisture to perform as well as earlier planted fields. Grain sorghum was turning red; harvest should begin in the next few weeks. Wheat fields were harvested, and yields were fair to good. Early planted soybeans were in good to excellent condition. Rice was doing well and starting panicle development, with some early rice starting to head. Cotton conditions were fair to good in most fields. Cotton responded extremely well to the moisture in late May and early June. A lot of the earlier planted cotton was starting to square and bloom. Extreme heat and dry conditions were starting to take a toll on pasture and rangeland conditions. Pastures were in fair to good condition but could use some rain. Weed and insect control continued to be a priority, but no major problems were reported. Hay harvest was in full swing, and yields varied from fair to good. Second cuttings of hay were coming to an end in some areas with wide-ranging yields and quality reported. Cattle on pasture were in good to excellent condition, and feeder cattle prices were at or near record levels. Calves gained well throughout the spring and looked good. 


Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate. Hay production was in full swing across the district. Producers were spraying for weeds. Scattered rainfall was received in most counties. Pasture and rangeland conditions were good. Blackberry, blueberry and summer vegetable harvesting continued. Cattle markets were strong. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Horn flies remained a major problem. Wild pig damage was reported.


Continuous rain events caused local flooding and prevented fieldwork, including cotton planting. Temperatures began to heat up towards the end of the week allowing access to fields in some areas to continue planting. Established crops were slowly developing due to cooler temperatures, but warmer temperatures and sunny skies in the forecast should help. A few fields of cotton were zeroed out due to hail damage. Some cotton fields sustained minor damage from thrips. Grain crops and pastures were thriving due to the moisture. A few irrigation systems were turned back on ahead of the dry, sunny forecast.


Wet conditions kept farmers out of their fields for most of the week. Most counties in the district reported adequate subsoil moisture, with some reporting surplus topsoil moisture. Crops were in fair to good condition. Planting resumed on corn and began on grain sorghum in some areas, and most fields needed weed control. Corn that was planted early in the season looked excellent. Wheat was still maturing, but some fields were beginning to turn color. Cotton conditions were questionable due to extreme rainfall. Emerged cotton was growing slowly due to overcast, cool days and surplus topsoil moisture. Rangelands were green, growing and recovering well. Most pastures were not stocked to allow them time to recover. Rangeland and pasture conditions were mostly fair to good. Fly issues on cattle were a problem, and some pinkeye was showing up. Some foot rot problems were beginning to appear.


Soil moisture levels were short to adequate. Some counties received scattered thunderstorms, while others reported sporadic rain. Hail damaged crops in some areas. Pasture and rangeland were in fair to good condition. Corn looked good and was tasselling in most fields. Soybeans and grain sorghum were doing well. Oats were being harvested, and peanut planting was underway. Livestock were in good condition. Spring-born calves were doing well. Nuisance flies were still very intense in most counties.


Daytime temperatures were in the mid-80s to low-90s and in the 70s overnight. Soil moisture levels continued to improve. Spotty showers delivered trace amounts to 2.25 inches of rain. Storms brought damaging hail as well. Cotton planting was complete, but fields were growing slowly due to cool night-time temperatures. Cotton around the El Paso area was being irrigated. Corn and sorghum were doing well in the weather, but melons were behind schedule. Conditions were favorable for cotton planting if producers were able to access fields. Pecan orchards looked good, but producers were noticing potential leaf spot damage. Rangeland conditions were improving, and pastures were greening up nicely. Most ranching operations were wrapping up a first hay cutting, and rangelands were expected to recover exceptionally following the rainfall. Alfalfa fields looked good, and some fields were cut despite the rain. Livestock were in fair condition and improving, and producers finished working of lambs and kid goats. 


Scattered rains delivered trace amounts up to 1.3 inches, with some hail damage reported. Temperatures were rising, and humidity levels were above normal. One county reported temperatures above 100 degrees. More rain was needed to fill stock tanks and lakes. High temperatures were stressing plants. Cotton planting was delayed by wet conditions, and several fields held standing water. Pecan orchards had promising crops, but pecan nut casebearers caused some early damage.

Producers were harvesting wheat, preparing fields and shredding pastures where they could. Some producers cut and baled Bermuda grass and hay grazer. Pastures and rangelands looked good and were improving, but weed pressure was high. Rangeland and pastures that were overgrazed were slower to recover. Livestock looked excellent, with good grazing availability. Cattle prices were up. Stocker steers sold $15-$25 higher per hundredweight, and stocker heifers sold $8-$10 higher per hundredweight. Feeder steers were $10-$15 dollars higher, while feeder heifers were $12-$14 higher per hundredweight.


Multiple rains saturated the ground, but some areas received sporadic rainfall. Some heavy storms caused power outages. Very high temperatures were in the forecast. Ponds were full and livestock were in good condition. Agricultural operations were more optimistic about production through summer following recent rainfall. Fieldwork occurred where drier conditions allowed. Rice fields looked fair, but early planted fields looked excellent. Cotton was planted, and planted fields progressed, but cooler, cloudy conditions slowed crop development. Irrigated and dryland corn was doing well. Hay and haylage harvest continued where the weather allowed. Forage production fields were being fertilized following recent cuttings. Grazing and forage production conditions were excellent. Cool-season forages were still present but declined, and weed control ramped up. Fly and mosquito populations were booming.


Some areas remained dry, while others received trace amounts of up to almost 1 inch of rainfall. Temperatures were rising, and moisture levels declined. Wheat and oats were harvested. All irrigated crops looked good. The corn and sorghum fields looked excellent. Hay harvest was in full swing, and pastures responded well to recent rainfall. Gardeners were busy harvesting. Crop pest numbers were low. Cattle prices were excellent, and livestock were beginning to concentrate around water or in the shade to cool off. Livestock and wildlife were in good condition, but producers were warned that conditions were favorable for anthrax outbreaks.


Grain sorghum started to turn color, and corn was beginning to dry down. Some producers were applying harvest aids on grain sorghum. Midge, head worms, rice stinkbugs and sugarcane aphids were reported in grain sorghum. Sesame was in the early vegetative and flowering stages. A few garden webworms were reported in sesame, but the crops looked clean.  Potato and sweet corn harvests continued. Later-planted corn fields were in the dough stage. Peanut planting was in full swing and should be completed soon. Cotton fields emerged and looked good. Irrigated fields were beginning to square, and some were setting bolls. Flea hoppers, tarnish bugs and whiteflies were reported in cotton fields. Bermuda grass fields were being cut and baled. Livestock and wildlife were looking for cool shaded areas or ponds or creeks to stay cool. Cattle prices were still very strong. Watermelons and cantaloupe harvests continued. Row crops were progressing rather well, with most farmers focusing on insect and weed control. Beef cattle conditions improved as grazing availability increased. Local markets continued to report below-average sale volumes with steady to strong prices for all classes. Ranchers and deer producers continued to supplement their livestock and wildlife. Quail were still in mating season. 

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