Special to the E-T
COLLEGE STATION – Drought, flood, fluctuating energy costs, high feed costs, low milk prices – 2009 was a challenge for many Texas producers. Nearly all of the state’s agriculture was adversely affected by atypical weather during the year; some areas fared better than others. Texas AgriLife Extension Service district administrators summed up the year in agriculture for their regions.
According to Ron Woolley of Stephenville, 2009 was a challenging year with extreme drought conditions during the first eight months. Improved forages provided minimal grazing or hay production. Rangeland forage production was also very limited. As a result, hay prices escalated, and many beef producers had to reduce or liquidate their herds. Blackland field crops were severely affected by the drought. However, during the last four months of the year, the region received record rainfall that increased early fall hay yields and provided excellent growth on small grains, improved forage pastures and native rangeland. Abundant rainfall also established good supplies of stock water.
Donnie Montemayor of Corpus Christi said most row crops failed due to the lack of rain. Most of the cotton, grain sorghum and corn production was very limited in all parts of the district. Much of the production was zeroed-out under crop insurance programs. Livestock and forage production was limited as well, with forage production also very limited due to the extreme drought. Lacking feed and water, producers had to sell most of their beef cattle herds; some even liquidated their entire herds. The high cost of feed contributed to the liquidation of many herds. The severe drought limited wildlife. The fall brought much needed rainfall.
According to Shelia Lewis of Overton, this year was very wet after a two-month drought during peak hay production time. The early drought created challenges for hay producers, cattle producers and farmers. Later, untimely rains impacted field work and the harvest of hay and other crops. High temperatures in June made it difficult for some vegetable growers, but the rains proved to be beneficial for the establishment of winter pastures. Other issues affecting the district were the infestations of armyworms and low cattle prices. Not all counties in the district welcomed the rain. Marion County, for example, had 85 inches of rain in 2009. The excessive rain eroded pastures and filled ponds to overflowing. Feral hogs continued to plague farms and small towns alike, rooting up pastures and creating driving hazards on rural roads and city streets.
Brenda Rue of Fort Stockton said cotton got off to a slow start with a lot of cool days in the early season. A cold front in March affected pecan production. Dryland cotton didn’t fare well either. Disease, notably southern rust disease, was also a factor in some counties, delaying fruit set and boll development. Alfalfa production was hurt by rains during July and August. Snow fell in late November leading to the rainfall total. Pastures had very low forage production due to dry conditions. Dry grasses contributed to the potential for wildfires. There was limited soil moisture to carry ranchers through the winter months. Winter wheat grew in areas that had warmth and some moisture at the beginning of fall. Pecans did well, and harvest was just beginning by mid-December. High winds shook nuts lose and damaged trees. Red chiles had good yields of 2,500 to 3,000 pounds per acre. Weather didn’t affect corn, grain sorghum or spring wheat. December has already brought snow, sleet and freezing rain with amounts ranging from 6-14 inches within one week.
According to Hurley Miller of Dallas, the soil moisture ranged from dry through the summer months to very wet in the late summer through fall. Some crops stayed in the field too long because of wet conditions. The increased cost of fertilizer had some producers seeking alternative crops to assist in adding nutrients back into the soils. Some producers had a surplus supply of hay and shipped some to hay-poor areas across the state. The livestock were in good condition due to the large amount of forages in the area. Producers across the region consistently reported large losses of crops and damage to pastures by feral hogs.
Danny Nusser of Amarillo said it was a normal year because, as usual for the district, there was nothing normal. Winter moisture was below normal with very little snow except in the northern Panhandle. Most of the region’s wheat yields were below normal or non-existent, with the exception of the northeastern counties where there were outstanding yields. Moisture for summer crops was very good in the mid- to late summer, which promoted much-needed pasture growth for summer and winter grazing. Storms early in the year cut cotton acreage to below normal, but summer rains allowed for excellent yields with corn and other feed grains. In some areas, an early freeze cost cotton producers yields and even hurt sorghum weights on late-planted and dryland fields. Fall moisture has been below average.
According to Donald W. Kelm of Vernon, the year began with extremely dry conditions, so the wheat crop never produced an adequate stand. Some rain came in March but not enough to break the drought. Two late-April freezes severely damaged what was left of an already dismal wheat crop. Most wheat was harvested for seed, but a large percentage was zeroed-out by crop insurance adjusters. Grass fires were prevalent, including an 8,000-acre fire in Archer County. The cotton-growing season got off with a bang with good rains, but a hailstorm in June destroyed portions of the crop. Cotton yields went to average or below after 100-degree temperatures in August and cold weather in the fall. The exception to this in the northwest part of the region was an excellent cotton crop, both irrigated and dryland. Most producers harvested an average to above-average peanut crop. However wet weather delayed harvest of both peanut and cotton, and in fact some producers will possibly be harvesting cotton into the New Year. On the brighter side, the wet weather was beneficial to the early wheat crop. Many producers were able to turn stocker cattle out on wheat pasture before Nov. 1, which was almost unheard of. Cattle were in fair condition for most of the year with producers providing early supplemental feed.
Dale A. Fritz of Bryan said the year began with only fair surface and sub-surface soil moisture, and things did not improve during much of the growing season. Initially wheat in the Brazos Valley had very good yield potential and corn planting got off to a good start. However, a late winter freeze killed the developing grains. Almost all of the wheat was harvested for hay. Most plantings of corn, grain sorghum, cotton and rice emerged, making adequate to good stands. Early spring moisture was good, but the lack of subsequent rainfall significantly impacted dryland crop and forage production. Dryland crop yields were very poor. Those who could irrigate saw good yields but had high input costs. Rice yields were the bright spot due to the crop’s response to open sunny days. Forage production was very poor. Calves were sold early and cow herds were reduced by at least 30 percent. Pastures and rangeland responded to good rains in late September and October. In some areas the continuous rainfall prevented hay harvesting and delayed the cotton harvest, greatly reducing its quality. By mid-December there were fields of cotton and second-crop sorghum that were not harvested. Also, due to wet field conditions, soil preparation for the next season has been delayed and wheat planting has been prevented.
According to Ruben J. Saldaña of Weslaco, the eight-month drought caused a lot of problems, including high costs for irrigation and supplemental feed. Because of non-stop, extremely high temperatures, and lack of moisture, farmers had to heavily irrigate to keep up with crop production and land preparations for spring and fall crops. Producers in the eastern parts of the region were hurt the worst. Most crops were zeroed-out by crop insurance adjusters. In the western parts of the region, pecan crops did not do well this year due to the inability of producers to obtain water from the Nueces County River for irrigation as a result of extremely low flow. In the southern parts of the region, most vegetable and citrus crops did well with irrigation, but 63 percent of dryland and 18 percent of irrigated cotton, corn and sorghum failed. Livestock producers had a difficult time, too. Lack of forage production and the high cost of supplemental feed were compounded by temperatures above 100 degrees by mid-summer and critically low stock water tanks. Some producers were forced to reduce or completely liquidate their herds. During September, from 3 inches to 10 inches of rain came to the region. Parched rangeland and pastures began to green-up, but were still short of being at normal production levels for livestock grazing. Producers began purchasing replacement livestock and preparing feed storage for the winter months. The year ended with extreme cold.
Cheryl Mapston of Uvalde said a severe drought beginning in 2005 became even worse from September 2008 through August 2009. In addition, record-high temperatures during the summer and the lack of rainfall had a negative economic impact on agricultural producers and businesses. During the last three months, rainfall was good and in many areas, exceeded rainfall amounts of the previous 12 months. Consequently, the outlook for the coming year improved. Drought decreased livestock forage availability, and stocking rates were reduced. Wildlife resource management enterprises also decreased due to a combination of drought conditions and the economic recession. Substantial dryland crops were lost. Overall, vegetable production was excellent. The spring vegetable crop was better, in terms of yield, quality and even markets, than the fall crop. Since almost all vegetables in the region were produced under irrigation, a very dry spring and summer with supplemental water created a nearly ideal growing environment. However, a cool, wet fall increased disease intensity, delayed harvests and reduced yields and quality.
According to Scott Durham of San Angelo, a severe drought continued until mid-September. Burn bans remained active throughout most of the year. Stock water tanks and pond levels became a great concern to producers through the drought, and remained very low to mid-December. Wheat crops failed and cotton planting was late due to drought. Late moisture saved the cotton crop, and producers realized average to slightly above average yields. With a shortage of forage and hay, livestock producers were forced to overgraze rangeland and pastures. Grazing continued to decline most of the year due to dry conditions and heat stress. Livestock remained in fair to good condition for most of the year with supplemental feeding. Pecan yields were below average for the season.