Farm Progress

Winter hits hard; slows cotton, peanut harvests

Robert Burns

December 10, 2009

7 Min Read

Winter weather slowed the cotton harvest in the western parts of the state, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel. The wet, cold weather also slowed or halted other field activities, but where there was accompanying moisture, winter pastures and wheat benefited, AgriLife Extension reports stated.

"When winter decided to come, it hit hard,” said Ryan Martin, AgriLife Extension agent in Motley County , southeast of Amarillo. “Temperatures have been ranging in the teens every morning with a hard frost. Earlier this week we received some moisture in the form of rain and sleet, and a small amount of snow. Although this has slowed down harvest, it has been a blessing for pastures and rangeland.”

However, the weather was a mixed blessing for some wheat producers, said Brad Easterling, AgriLife Extension agent in Baylor County , southwest of Wichita Falls.

“The cold weather throughout the week slowed germination of existing wheat fields,” Easterling reported. “Most wheat has been sown except for what little will go in behind cotton. Most wheat looks good at this time.”

The earlier-than-usual cold weather may just allow gins to play catch up, said John Senter, AgriLife Extension agent in Mitchell County , west of Abilene.

“Strong cold fronts moved through the county, bringing below-average temps with rainfall, sleet and snow,” Senter said. “The badly needed wet conditions have stopped all cotton harvest and will force gins to operate with modules on gin yards as fields are far too wet to allow module trucks to operate. However, with growing module numbers at gins, there is ample number to gin for three or four days and allow dry-up.”

Other AgriLife Extension agents noted that although the cold, wet weather stressed cattle somewhat, the stress was offset by promised improvement in winter grazing. However, in many parts of the state, late planting of winter forages meant grazing was still scant, and the colder temperatures slowed further growth. Livestock producers had to fill the forage gap with increased feeding of hay and other supplements.

The following summaries were compiled by AgriLife Extension district reporters:

CENTRAL: Cold fronts brought rain, helping maintain high soil moisture. Most of the region received a freeze, which stopped all warm-season grass growth and ended hay production. Most producers planned to use standing forage for winter. Pecan yields ranged fair to good, depending on location and management.

COASTAL BEND: From 0.5 inch to 2 inches of rain was followed by sleet, snow flurries and a hard freeze. Farmers were not doing any field work due to wet soils. Soil moisture levels were good.

EAST: Parts of the region received as much as 4 inches of rain, followed by the first freeze of the year, ending the growing season. Winter oats, rye and wheat pastures made good growth. Livestock producers were feeding hay and other supplements. Cattle were in fair to good condition and fall calving continued. Milk prices rose somewhat, but dairy producers were still suffering. Feral hogs continued to be active.

FAR WEST: The pecan and cotton harvests were put on hold because of snow and rain. From 2 inches to 10 inches of snow fell. Fields were too wet for any farming activity. The main cotton harvest was finished, but many modules remained in the field. The harvesting of cotton that set up a second fruiting set awaited drier conditions. The red chile harvest was finished. Fall-planted onions and alfalfa were dormant. Winter wheat growth slowed because of low temperatures.

NORTH: Soil-moisture levels were in the surplus range for most of the region. Some counties had rain and colder temperatures with a little snow. The wet conditions halted all field work. There were also reports of frost and hard freezes. It was getting too late for further wheat planting. The soybeans, sorghum and cotton harvests were finished. The cold, wet weather was hard on livestock, but most appeared to be in good shape going into the winter. Recent rain has created increased runoff from silage and dairy lagoons. Under the threat of EPA inspections, already stressed dairy producers were struggling to keep lagoons at appropriate levels with the excessive rainfall. Because winter pastures were not ready for grazing, many cattle producers were forced to provide considerable amounts of supplemental feed and hay. Peach producers began pruning trees. Feral hogs and the damage they cause to pastures and crops increased.

PANHANDLE: Much colder temperatures ruled throughout the region. Soil moisture levels were short, and all areas could use some moisture. Some cotton was still being harvested, with the harvest expected to be completed by Christmas. Dryland wheat was stressed by low temperatures and dry conditions. Cattle producers spent more time supplementing cattle and breaking ice in stock water tanks. Rangeland deteriorated, with most counties reporting it to be in poor to fair condition.

ROLLING PLAINS: Winter hit hard in parts of the district. Rain, sleet and a small amount of snow were followed by a hard freeze in some counties. The moisture damped down the cotton harvest but was a blessing for wheat, pastures and rangeland. The moisture also helped wild rye and winter weeds grow. Livestock producers were feeding cows supplemental protein on a regular basis but did not need to feed hay. More than an average number of stocker cattle were put on wheat. Most of the wheat producers in the district reported they had completed or nearly completed planting. Some wheat producers found rust in some varieties. There were a few reports of worm damage. Insect activity was otherwise low, while greenbugs were present but not at economically significant thresholds. The pecan harvest was in full swing with good yields and average quality.

SOUTH: With the exception of Webb and Cameron counties, all counties reported adequate soil moisture levels. Cold, overcast weather with some rain slowed field activity and peanut harvesting in the northern part of the region. Two inches of rain fell in the eastern part of the region. The recent rain helped dryland wheat and oats in the western part of the region. Cabbage and spinach harvesting resumed where fields were dry enough. In the southern part of the region, crops were progressing well, forage availability was fair and the tomato harvest began. Warm-season forage production ended due to low temperatures, but it was expected that with continued moisture, cool-season native grasses should provide good grazing. Livestock were in fair condition. Stock tank water levels remained the limiting factor. Livestock producers were increasing supplemental feed rations due to cold and wet weather.

SOUTH PLAINS: A cold blast came to the region. The high on Dec. 3 was 30 degrees; on Dec. 4, temperatures ranged from 18 to 36 degrees, with from 0.5 inch to 3 inches of snow. Soil moisture was short to adequate. The cotton and sorghum harvests were nearly complete. Many gins were about two-thirds finished ginning. Winter wheat continued to mature. Pastures and rangeland were in poor to fair condition. The cold weather stressed area livestock, and producers continued with supplemental feeding.

SOUTHWEST: There was a hard freeze Dec. 5, with lows in the low 20s. The impact on vegetable crops was not yet known, but losses were expected. The only other frost this fall was light and did not occur in all areas, so some crops may not have developed adequate cold tolerance. The pecan harvest was nearly complete. The lettuce, cabbage and spinach harvests continued. Producers were preparing fields for potato planting, which should begin soon after Christmas.

WEST CENTRAL: The region had lower-than-normal temperatures with freezing rain in many areas. The cotton harvest slowed due to wet conditions, but field activity was expected to pick up as fields dried out. Small grain fields were progressing well. Rangeland and pastures were improving as cool-season grasses began growing after recent moisture. Livestock remained in fair to good condition, and producers increased supplemental feeding. Stock pond levels were higher. The pecan harvest was also slowed by the wet weather. The crop looked good overall, but prices were down.

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