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Planting deadlines pass for South Texas farmers

According to the National Weather Service, rainfall amounts between 6 and 10 inches fell across wide areas of the Coastal Bend over the last two weeks .

With continuing wet spring conditions reported across most of Nueces County, Coastal Bend farmers are beginning to wonder what happened to the drought that hampered farm and ranch production for the past several years.

Concerns are turning to missed crop deadlines, however, which are forcing many farmers to exercise preventive-planting options and others to leave acres fallow because of an excessively wet winter and early spring.

According to the National Weather Service, rainfall amounts between 6 and 10 inches fell across wide areas of the Coastal Bend over the last two weeks with isolated reports of 15 inches or more in some areas. Over the last 60 days rainfall amounts of 10 to 25 inches have been recorded up and down the mid-coast region and as far east as the Louisiana border.

"We've been hit with some substantial rain this month already and depending on where fields are located, some acres remain fallow. Other farmers have planted a percentage of their acres that could be worked," reports Jason Ott, Texas AgriLife Extension Service Agent in Nueces County.

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Ott says many farmers across the Coastal Bend were able to move equipment into select fields late in the mornings during periods when rains tapered off, providing small windows of opportunity for planting. Others reported equipment bogged down in the field early because of saturated soils and standing water.

Extended sunshine and warm days have been rare for much of March and April across coastal Texas, preventing fields from drying before the next round of showers pounded.

Fallow fields

"We're going to see some fallow fields this year as a result. Some cotton farmers who invested in preparing their acres for planting were forced to turn to grain sorghum where they could, but even sorghum acres will be down this year as a result of all the rain," Ott warned.

While farmers in Aransas and San Patricio fared a little better in terms of getting sorghum and even some cotton in the ground on the few dry days between the rains, planting conditions were spotty from field to field and farm to farm.

"We are seeing some good wheat conditions as a result of the rains, though the winds laid-over some wheat in a few areas and there were reports of light hail. But some of that wheat has managed to stand back up and overall there seems to be some good wheat and fair prices this year," he added.

Ott warns that while the rain is posing a number of problems, most farmers agree the rains are a positive development for the long run. While rainfall helped winter wheat it also promoted weed growth quickly. Ott and says Coastal Bend farmer face numerous challenges in coming weeks.

LRGV also wet

It wasn't only the mid- and upper coast that has struggled with wet weather and flooded fields. Similar conditions plagued the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV). While rainfall volumes were lower in Deep South Texas, planting schedules were delayed and some fields were still too wet to accommodate planting before earlier crop deadlines approached.

Overall, LRGV farmers found a few days of relief and were able to complete planting across most of Cameron County and across large areas of Hidalgo County as well.

A break from the rains also allowed citrus growers and sugarcane farmers to resume delayed harvesting operations, but rains hampered harvest of some vegetables in the Valley and north into the Winter Garden areas of south-central Texas. The cool weather helped extended spinach season, according to reports, and both sorghum and cotton were planted in western parts of the region.

Ranchers across South Texas hailed the rains as good for pasture conditions but report weeds are quickly becoming a problem. Most stockmen report supplemental feeding of livestock has all but stopped thanks to abundant winter grasses. Some ranchers reported while winter wheat benefited from the rains, warm weather grasses are finding it more difficult to get established this spring, raising concerns about grazing conditions for the summer months.

While South Texas reservoir levels are lower than seasonal averages, they have improved greatly thanks to rains that started last fall and have continued to bring a wet winter and spring to most of East and South Texas. Lake Corpus Christi and Choke Canyon Reservoir combined levels improved this week to just over 40 percent capacity, the best start to a new season in many years. But county agents across South Texas warn that a hot, dry summer remains a real possibility if rains cease soon and do not return in the summer.

The short term forecast for South Texas is calling for continued scattered thunderstorms and rain showers through the end of this weekend with the possibility of more in the week ahead. While temperatures have started to warm, they remain lower than seasonal averages across most of the region.

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