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Rain gives some relief, but many producers still at risk

Much of the state received from 1 to 2 inches of moisture, with some areas receiving 5 to 6 inches. Although the rain went a long way to alleviate the drought, crops such as wheat are still behind, and most areas need more rain to raise soil moisture to normal levels, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

Moreover, due to the combined punches of drought and economic downturn, many agricultural sectors will continue to suffer, rain or no rain. Texas dairies are a good example, said Dr. Todd Bilby, AgriLife Extension dairy specialist based in Stephenville.

Dairy operators in the area are probably losing $3 to $4 per cow per day, he said.

"In some cases, it can be as much as $5 per head per day," he said. "Unfortunately, we will probably see some operators go out of business this year."

Why are dairies losing money while the price of a gallon of milk in the supermarket still remains high? It's a combination of factors, Bilby said, factors upon which greening-up pastures will have little affect as most are confined feeding operations.

"Most of these guys locked in feed prices for months in advance, and then the price they receive for milk went down by almost half," he said.

Dairy farm milk prices dropped for several reasons, but a primary one was that exports dropped significantly due to less demand. The drop in exports was due to lower demand worldwide because of the global recession, increased production by New Zealand, and the European Union directly subsidizing their exports, he said.

Meanwhile milk prices at the grocery store remain high because retailers are trying to recoup past losses.

"The retailers always seem to come out ahead on these deals while the farmers suffer," Bilby said.

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

CENTRAL: Most counties received greatly needed rain. With little runoff, stock tanks remained low. Spring and winter annual plants responded quickly. The planting of corn and milo was nearly complete with only a few producers holding back until after the rain. Wheat looked fair, and it was hoped the rain would result in decent yields despite the dry fall and winter.

COASTAL BEND: The region saw cooler temperatures and light rain, generally, less than 0.5 inch. However, Lavaca County had from 1 to 2 inches in some areas. Pastures remained bare, and cattle still needed supplemental feed. Producers delayed planting crops in most areas. Overall, the drought continued to worsen, and ranchers were selling cattle because of lack of forage.

EAST: The region received much needed rain, as much as 6 inches in some areas. The moisture should reduce the risk of wildfires. However, San Augustine County remained in desperate need of moisture. Feral hog activity was up. Trinity County had problems with skunks and deer moving close to and on the roads. Livestock were in fair to good condition.

FAR WEST: County agents reported from 0.2 - 1.2 inches of rain. Fall-planted onions came out of dormancy. Chile and cotton fields were furrowed and irrigated. Pecan trees remained dormant, but the first irrigation was applied to about half of the orchards. Alfalfa received the first irrigation and was coming out of dormancy. Spring wheat emerged, and stands were looking healthy.

NORTH: Soil moisture ranged from adequate to surplus as from 1.75 to 5 inches rain fell throughout the region. Ponds caught much needed runoff, and the ground was saturated in some areas. The rain helped the small grain fields and encouraged farmers and ranchers. The winter wheat was in fair to good condition. The rain halted land preparation and planting. Cooler temperatures slowed grass growth and may have caused some damage to the peach trees. Heavy supplemental feeding of livestock continued, and hay supplies were rapidly diminishing. However, some producers reported that their cattle were eating less hay as conditions improve. Rangeland and pastures were in poor to fair condition, but the winter pastures were already showing some benefit from the rain.

PANHANDLE: Cold weather with some snow and sleet moved through the region, but moisture remained short. Producers continued to work fields, with many fields bedded up and ready to plant. Insect activity was ongoing with green bugs, Russian wheat aphids and mites sprayed. Dryland wheat was in poor condition, still needing lots of moisture. Some fields were corn will be planted were being watered. Cattle were running out of grass; moisture conditions were getting very serious. There remained a high wildfire danger.

ROLLING PLAINS: Showers brought between 0.5 and 2 inches of moisture, but conditions remained extremely dry. Producers were still heavily supplementing what cows they had left. Young, good heavy cows were being sold. Hay was in very short supply. Some wheat looked really good considering the drought, but it was still behind. Cotton farmers began to prepare fields, but the dry conditions made it hard to cultivate land.

SOUTH: County agents throughout most of the region reported short to very short soil moisture. About 1 to 2 inches of rain fell in the northern and western areas of the region, with scattered showers and drizzle throughout the rest. The rain was welcomed by producers, but the totals were not enough to significantly improve range forage conditions or increase stock-tank levels. Minimal field activity was taking place in the eastern parts of the region. Cold temperatures accompanied the rain in the western parts of the region, slowing spring vegetation growth. The rain and the resulting muddy fields halted cabbage and spinach harvesting. Showers in the southern parts of the region were weak but enough to prevent producers from planting cotton, corn and sorghum. Livestock producers continued to provide supplemental feed due to poor range and pasture conditions. Herd liquidations were ongoing, with poor to fair cattle body-condition scores reported.

SOUTH PLAINS: Wintery weather returned to the region with lows at or below freezing. From 0.35 to 2 inches of precipitation came as a mixture of rain, snow and sleet. Soil moisture was very short to short. Field preparation continued with producers working fields and applying fertilizer. Winter wheat was in very poor to poor condition. Irrigated wheat was jointing and looked good. Much of the drought-stressed wheat was in the tillering stage. A few Russian wheat aphids were reported. Pastures and ranges were in very poor to poor condition. Supplemental feeding of cattle continued.

SOUTHWEST: The region received 1.5-to 3 inches of rain after a five-month completely dry period, but the soil profile remains relatively dry. The accompanying cool weather helped to conserve moisture. County agents reported that the rain may make possible planting of some dryland crops, but more rain will be needed to sustain them. The rain was expected to cause the appearance of flowers such as bluebonnets,(no comma) and Indian paint brushes, which have been absent during the last three desperately dry years. Forage availability, which was almost non-existent, was expected to improve. The spate of roadside and field wildfires was also expected to decline. Ranchers, waiting for pastures and ranges to green up, continued to provide heavy supplemental nutrition to their remaining livestock. Stock tanks were partially re-filled. The cabbage and spinach harvests continued. Potatoes, spring onions and cabbage were making good progress under heavy irrigation. Irrigated corn and sorghum planting was complete. The wheat harvest will be one of the lowest in many years.

WEST CENTRAL: A cold front brought much needed rain to many areas. The rain came in very slowly and most of it soaked in with little run off which raised soil-moisturelevels. Temperatures were in the mid to lower 30s and 40s most of the week. Small grains began to head out. Spring planting of hay crops was expected to resume soon. Range and pastures showed improvement thanks to the rain, but livestock herd liquidations continued.

TAGS: Management
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