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New drought information Web site goes onlineNew drought information Web site goes online

Steve Byrns

April 23, 2009

7 Min Read

Is Texas still in a drought? It depends upon whom you talk to. Some parts of the state are doing very well, thank you, while other areas are still suffering from ongoing drought or its past damages, according to reports from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

To help deal with the drought, a number of state and federal agencies, led by AgriLife Extension, have formed the Drought Joint Information Center and launched a new public information Web site. The Web site, was designed for producers, industry groups, county officials, the media and anyone else needing creditable, consistent Texas drought-related information, said Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension agronomist.

"We provide a central clearinghouse of drought-related public information and education to help each of the participating agencies perform their designated public service roles," Miller said. "We also provide timely and consistent drought-related news, including historic and forecasted National Weather Service rainfall information, water updates from state water authorities and agricultural drought damage assessment updates as provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Services Agency, state agricultural economists and other recognized experts."

Participating agencies include: AgriLife Extension, the Texas Water Development Board, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, USDA, Texas Forest Service, Texas Animal Health Commission, Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Department of Transportation and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The site also has producer/landowner information such as drought-related tax breaks available to livestock producers; the extension of replacement period for livestock sold on account of drought in specified counties; and how the prolonged drought impacts wildlife.

The following summaries were compiled by AgriLife Extension district reporters this week:

CENTRAL: Soil moisture was short to adequate throughout the region after some good rains. Two April freezes have damaged a considerable amount of corn and wheat. Producers were preparing to plant or already planting cotton. Some cotton producers have already completed planting. Range and pasture conditions were in fair to good condition. Ranchers reported a shortage of hay.

COASTAL BEND: The region remained dry. Much more moisture was needed to maintain planted crops and to establish vegetation in pastures and rangeland. Corn, grain sorghum and cotton acreages were reduced due to the drought, but what will emerge remains to be seen.

EAST: From 1 to 6 inches of rain fell across the area. Overall, soil moisture levels were much improved. Cooler night temperatures slowed forage growth. Producers began to fertilize and spray herbicides. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Beaver and feral hogs increased. Trinity County reported spotting sounders (herds) of 50-60 feral hogs.

FAR WEST: Widely scattered showers were reported across the region. Some mesquites were leafing out. Pecans were coming out of dormancy, male flowers were out and foliage was at 10 percent of full development. Fall-planted onions were at the eighth leaf stage, ready to begin making bulbs. The first cutting of alfalfa was 50 percent harvested. Spring wheat was in the flag-leaf stage. Dryland wheat was too far gone to harvest for grain, but some producers may try to bale it for hay. Green grass pastures were showing signs of distress. High winds raised the danger of wildfire.

NORTH: Soil moisture ranged between short and surplus. Some counties saw thunderstorms with 1.5-4 inches of rain. Stock tanks were partially replenished thanks to rain. Temperatures dropped into the 20s and 30s for a couple of nights, and some producers reported 30 percent to 90 percent freeze damage to wheat. Some fields were a total loss, and there was also some damage to oats. Most corn had emerged,but it was very small and only in fair condition, with question as to the extent of freeze damage. The cooler-than-normal temperatures delayed growth of corn, soybeans and warm-season grass pastures. Winter pastures looked good. Livestock were in fair to good condition, and winter feeding was nearly over. Rangeland and pastures were in fair condition. No freeze damage was reported to peaches or strawberries.

PANHANDLE: Temperatures were near average. Most areas reported some moisture. Soil moisture varied from surplus to very short with most areas reporting short to very short. Wheat was rated fair to very poor with most areas reporting very poor. Producers were still assessing freeze damage to the wheat. Corn planting was slowed by wet conditions. Range conditions were rated mostly very poor. The danger of wildfire remained high.

ROLLING PLAINS: Rain, fire and freeze were all concerns across the region. The effects of an early April freeze to a significant portion of the region's wheat crop became evident. Most heads did not fill out, and growers were considering grazing or haying what was left. Fires were reported in Clay, Montague, Jack, Parker, Palo Pinto and Wichita counties. Jack County reported nearly 50,000 acres burned, with at least 20 homes lost, plus numerous outbuildings, equipment, 500 miles of fence and 19 confirmed dead cows. In Montague, wildfire took three lives (two from the fire, one from heart attack) and burned an estimated 40,000 acres of range and pasture. Jack County also lost about 100 structures, including homes, barns and out buildings, 55 head of livestock and 1,500 miles of fence. The fires were followed by as much as 5.25 inches of rain, which greened up pastures but left stock water tanks low to dry. Cattle were in fair condition with producers providing supplemental feed on a daily basis. The rain and improved soil moisture conditions allowed cotton producers to start thinking about planting.

SOUTH: Light rain fell throughout the region but not enough to help alleviate very short soil-moisture levels. Sorghum planting was nearly completed, and corn and potato fields were growing well with heavy irrigation. Pepper crops emerged, and planting of cotton and grain sorghum was completed. Sorghum in the western parts of the region emerged thanks to the scattered showers, but additional moisture was needed to get the crop off to a good start. Cabbage harvesting slowed down as a result the rain. Corn was developing well under irrigation, and cotton made progress under favorable weather. All pecan varieties reached the bloom stage. Many spring dryland row crops were drought-stressed. In the southern counties, the onion harvest was ongoing, and irrigation was heavy. Rangeland and pasture remained in poor condition. Stock tank water levels dropped to critically low levels, and supplemental feeding of livestock continued.

SOUTH PLAINS: The region saw severe thunderstorms, accompanied by several tornadoes and hail. However, the storms also brought from 0.2-3 inches of rain, helping dryland farmers. Soil moisture was short to adequate. Producers prepared fields for cotton planting. On irrigated cotton acres, irrigation was in full swing. Wheat remained in very poor to poor condition. Assessment of freeze and hail damage to wheat continued. Pastures and rangeland were in very poor to poor condition. Livestock were mostly fair to good with supplemental feeding continuing.

SOUTHWEST: The eastern part of the region received substantial rainfall, but the western part received from only a trace to 1 inch. High winds dissipated some of the moisture, and the soil profile remained very dry. Forage was in short supply. The rain greened up the region, but pastures, rangeland and dryland crops made very little progress. Ranchers continued to provide heavy supplemental nutrition to their remaining livestock. The cabbage and spinach harvests continued. The onion harvest began early, but markets remained weak. Potatoes, spring onions, spring cabbage, corn, sorghum and cotton made good progress under heavy irrigation. A limited wheat harvest should start in early May.

WEST CENTRAL: Temperatures were much cooler, with scattered showers in some counties. Very high winds dried out soil moisture. Freeze damage to wheat was reported by several counties, causing most of the crop to be grazed or baled. Producers were applying herbicides. Rangeland and pastures showed some improvement from the rain. The late freeze also impacted pecan trees.

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