East, Central Texas producers with hay will likely hold onto it

COLLEGE STATION – In 2011, Midwestern producers were shipping hay to Texas as the state faced unprecedented drought and forage shortages, but don't count on East Texas to return the favor this year as the Midwest undergoes its own drought, said a Texas AgriLife Extension Service expert.

East, Central Texas producers with hay will likely hold onto itThough it's possible some East Texas producers could ship hay north, it might not happen for a number of reasons, said Dr. Vanessa Corriher, AgriLife Extension forage specialist.

"Anything is possible, but I'm not sure (East) Texans will be comfortable doing that even with the rain we had this year," Corriher said. "I think we're just running a little scared."

Thanks to timely rains, much of East and North Texas had reasonably good hay production in 2012, she said.

As of July 24, about 30 East Texas counties comprised the only part of Texas not rated in either extremely dry or in one stage of drought or another, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Early Drought monitor reports show better moisture conditions for the Central Texas. Associated with the better conditions were some good hay yields, according to Corriher.

But though hay stocks are up, prices high – ranging from $60 to $100 per bale – and stocking rates down in parts of the state, Corriher said she expected most producers east of Interstate 45 to be cautious and hold on to what they have.

"A lot of our producers, whether they had livestock or were strictly into hay production, depleted a lot of their stocks last year," she said. "I think the attitude this year has been to rebuild those stocks – to refill those barns they emptied last year – and try to prepare themselves for winter feeding. And there's always the potential for another extended drought in Texas."

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/ .

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

The 12 Texas AgriLife Extension Service Districts

Central: Most counties remained very dry. The corn harvest was finished, while the grain sorghum and sunflower harvests continued. In some counties, there was a lot of hay being made but not much being sold. Conditions varied widely, even within counties. For example, in Bosque County, some pastures were brown but two miles away grass was green and cows were fat. Stock-tank levels were dropping. Pecans and cotton were looking good. The corn harvest was over, while milo and sunflowers were being harvested. Where pastures were drying up, grasshoppers were moving into towns and feeding on landscape bushes and trees.

Coastal Bend: There were no significant rains, and temperatures were above normal. There was a great difference in conditions between the northern and southern parts of the district. In the northern part of the region, producers were harvesting grain sorghum and corn, and reporting outstanding yields. Pecan trees were loaded with nuts, and some growers reported loads so heavy that limbs were beginning to break. The red-grape harvest ended with yields topping out at over 4.5 tons per acre. Conditions were ideal for making hay, and some producers were taking second and third cuttings. But in the southern part of the district, 80 to 90 percent of corn and grain sorghum were zeroed-out by insurance adjusters. Many cotton producers were shredding fields instead of harvesting. If they did harvest, they reported poor yields. The area desperately needed rain to improve deep soil moisture. Without runoff, stock tanks remained very low or dry. Livestock producers were already feeding hay in areas that had yet to recovered from the 2011 drought. Many trees were lost due to drought stress.

East: Little to no rain fell across the region. Hot, dry weather with high winds quickly pulled moisture from the soil. Producers worried conditions might herald the onset of another drought. Weeds were an issue in many pastures. Grasshopper and feral hog problems continued. A few producers reported armyworms in pastures.

North: Soil moisture remained mostly short to adequate. Most counties received some rain – some reported as much as 2 inches – but more was needed. Pastures were in fair condition, but with hot weather expected to return, more rain is need or pastures will start turning brown. The corn harvest started in some counties, and growers were reporting good yields. Cotton was in a fair to good condition. Hay production continued. Stock ponds were in very good shape for this time of the year. There were still large numbers of grasshoppers and crickets. Peaches continued to do very well with no insect damage reported.

Panhandle: The region's hot, dry and windy weather continued. Soil moisture was mostly very short to short. Some counties received from 0.25 to 0.75 inch of rain, with a few isolated areas getting as much as 3 inches. Many fields of corn were heat stressed, and irrigators were having problems meeting the crop's water demands. Alfalfa was also moisture stressed. Cotton under irrigation was doing well. Manure trucks were going fast and furiously applying compost to fields that will be planted to wheat this fall. Grain sorghum was coming along with some fields heading, but moisture stress was affecting the crop's development. Rangeland and pastures were in from very poor to excellent condition, with most reporting very poor to poor. Cattle were in fair condition. Southwestern corn borer moth trap counts increased. Producers were spraying for second generation corn borer and applying fungicides at tassel.

Rolling Plains: The area had high temperatures and little or no rain. Some areas received very spotty showers. A few producers received up to 2.5 inches of rain, but with absolutely no soil moisture, the rain was immediately soaked into the ground or ran off. The dryland cotton crop was suffering from moisture stress and wasn't growing. Some irrigated cotton still looked good, but without rain, producers fear it will play out in another week. Insurance adjusters were ‘disastering-out" more dryland cotton acres. Pastures were in fair to poor condition. The extreme heat was another concern as cattle producers were seeing stock tanks drying up and well levels dropping. Fly and insect pressure was ongoing. Wildfires were becoming more of a concern. A fire started by lightning in Motley County consumed 3,500 acres of pasture and rangeland. Burn bans were in effect for many counties.

South: Soil moisture was adequate to very short. Most northern counties had adequate soil-moisture levels. The western counties of Duval and Webb also had adequate levels. Soil moisture ranged from 100 percent adequate in Cameron County to 70 to 100 percent very short in Hidalgo and Starr counties, respectively. Soil-moisture levels in the eastern counties were 20 to 100 percent very short. Spotty showers helped green up range and pastures some, but more rain was needed to offset the hot and windy conditions. In McMullen County, livestock producers continued to provide supplemental feed, and were culling herds and weaning calves early. Webb County reported 3 to 3.5 inches of rain, which helped raise stock-tank water levels and improve hay production. Hay prices in that area and nearby counties remained high. Good hay yields were reported in the Jim Wells County. In Frio County, the corn harvest picked up, early planted peanuts were pegging and later-planted peanuts were emerging. Also in that area, cotton and sorghum continued to develop. In Maverick County, farmers were harvesting watermelons and making hay from either coastal Bermuda grass or forage sorghum. In Zavala County, cotton progressed well, with approximately 75 percent of the crop opening bolls. Pecan growers in that area continued irrigating orchards where the nuts were at the critical kernel-development stage. In Cameron County, the cotton harvest continued. In Hidalgo County, cotton producers were irrigating and expected to begin defoliating soon. In Willacy County, the sorghum harvest was completed with above-average yields reported. Cotton harvesting also continued in that area with yields at average to slightly above average.

South Plains: Highs were in the mid to upper 90s, and there were some very isolated light showers. Parts of Garza County got as much as 1.7 inches of rain, but that was a rare exception to generally dry conditions. Dryland cotton was rapidly moving into cutout. Producers were monitoring crops for pests, but insect pressure has been minimal so far. Peanuts were being monitored closely for foliar disease and pod-rot. Rangeland and pastures were in good to poor condition depending on rainfall patterns. Livestock were mostly in good condition.

Southeast: In Burleson County, the dryland corn harvest was under way as strong winds with hot temperatures continued. Jefferson County had scattered showers with accumulations of 0.5 inch to 1.2 inches. Orange County also reported precipitation.

Southwest: Recent rains improved sorghum-sudan stands and allowed producers to cut hay. Some producers were taking a second cutting and reported good yields though lower quality than with the first cutting. The corn and grain sorghum harvests to continue with the warm weather. Cotton was making good progress. Irrigators with shallow wells reported water shortages.

West Central: Hot, dry, windy conditions continued. Soil-moisture levels continued to decline. Most row crops showed severe moisture stress. A few counties reported scattered showers. Cotton was beginning to bloom, but was also moisture stressed. Irrigation continued where water was available. Producers were cutting and baling haygrazer. More rain was needed to make a second cutting. The sorghum harvest was under way, with a few concerns about prussic acid and nitrate toxicity. Insects were a problem in some areas. Pastures and rangeland remained in poor condition, as high temperatures took a toll on grasses and forbs. Grazing was very limited, and producers started feeding hay. Stock-tank water levels dropping. Livestock remained in good condition, though some producers were selling cattle due to high feed costs and very little access to hay.