Friday, April 12, 2024

Texas Producers Persevere Through Drought

A ‘roller coaster’ season at least has some high points.

Drought continues to linger in patches of the state, but Texas agricultural producers face much better cropping outlooks going into spring says Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

The 2023 crop production was 107% more than 2022 although much of the state was still in extreme drought.

In late September 2023, about 97% of the state was experiencing some level of drought, with two-thirds of Texas mired in severe-to-exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. As of Jan. 16, 2024, that figure had dropped to 58% of the state experiencing levels of drought with about 13% experiencing severe to extreme drought and zero areas reporting exceptional drought.

John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas state climatologist and professor in the TAMU Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Bryan-College Station, says multiple storm systems could deliver needed moisture in areas like Central and East Texas that remain abnormally dry.

“About half the state has decent moisture, another 20% that is abnormally dry, so that leaves about one-third of the state, like Far West Texas, southern parts of the state and pockets in North and East Texas dealing with drought,” he says. However, the long-term outlook is not as promising.

Plan For The Worst, Hope For The Best

All six climate models, run by weather agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, show Texas will be drier than normal in late spring, which is the peak rainy season for most of the state.

“Having all six models forecasting the same outcome tells me there is a strong likelihood it plays out that way,” Nielsen-Gammon says. “It doesn’t mean bone dry. It just means less rain than we receive during the months that rainfall typically peaks.

Even so, Texas farmers should be more optimistic at this point says Ronnie Schnell, AgriLife Extension agronomist in Bryan-College Station.

“Input prices have fallen somewhat, but so have market prices, so plan ahead to optimize fertility and control weed and insect pests to give the crop the best chance possible for yield,” Schnell says. “Last year was very dry, but areas of South and Central Texas had the best corn in years. Sometimes that drier pattern, if we get timely rains, can change an outlook quickly.”

It would be ideal for soil moisture to improve going into planting, they said, adding they hope growers are able to take advantage of available moisture, plant as early as possible and manage their crops efficiently and effectively.

Yield Increased Over Prior Year

Despite two years of consecutive drought, peanut production was increased in 2023 compared to the year before.

“This past year’s peanut growing season was a roller coaster,” Matt Boerner, Cooke County peanut farmer says. “We started with wet conditions and a good stand for the crop, and then we moved into a dry and hot summer. We received rainfall later in the season, but with cooler temperatures and less sunlight, it was too late for the crop to produce.”

Texas production is forecast at 656 million pounds, according to the November U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agriculture Statistics Service report. Peanut yield is expected to reach 3,200 pounds per acre, up 400 pounds over 2022.

Although 205,000 acres of peanuts were expected to be harvested, Texas AgriLife Extension state peanut specialist Emi Kimura says the report does not fully depict the 2023 growing season. Almost 14,000 acres were lost to dry, hot conditions, she says. Farmers who were able to irrigate through the drought were able to maintain good pod and peanut development. However, those who were not able to keep up with moisture demands suffered another rough year.

Kimura says drought delayed crop progress, and weather-related events delayed harvest as well.

“Producers waited a week or two longer than normal to harvest their crop since the rain we received in May and June pushed back planting,” Kimura says. “The drought also slowed down production, so waiting to harvest allowed the crop to mature.”

“With having back-to-back years of drought, we hope to have a different story this year,” Boerner says. “We hope to see more rain, greater demand and market prices that are competitive with the cost of inputs.” PG


Portions of this article by Shelby Shank, Texas Farm Bureau field editor, and Adam Russell, communication specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife.

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