Last year, Texas abandoned more than 4 million acres of the 7.7 million acres of cotton planted due to the historic 2011 Drought. While this year started better for some, the drought certainly isn't over for some crop farmers or ranchers.
Some Texas cotton already has been abandoned and much cotton is just holding on.
Carl Anderson, Texas A&M cotton marketing expert, College Station, notes that of the 6.8 million acres planted in Texas this year, the irrigated acreage only amounts to 2 million to 2.5 million acres. And even some of that is limited irrigation.
"Hot, dry conditions have either destroyed or set back much of the dryland crop from the Coastal Bend to the Southern High Plains areas," Anderson observes.
There just hasn't been general rainfall across Texas.
"Favorable rains tend to be isolated to local regions," Anderson laments. "However, the irrigated—and some dryland acreage—could improve with timely rain in late July and August."
Earlier in the season, in more hopeful times of a turnaround from the drought, Anderson was thinking perhaps 20% or 25% of the Texas crop could be abandoned this year. Now he sees a higher figure.
"Abandonment of Texas cotton acreage might be around 30 percent," he says.
Kerry Siders, Texas AgriLife Extension Integrated Pest Management specialist for Hockley and Cochran counties on the High Plains, says the insect problems for cotton this season have been very light—just a few fleahoppers and Lygus bugs early on. He would watch for bollworms—especially in August—but as of late July it had been a fairly normal bollworm year.
He actually is more concerned about weed invaders.
"Weeds seem to be the most dominate 'pest' at this time," Siders reports. "A long varied list of weed species noted throughout both counties."
He hasn't thrown in the towel.
"As long as the water holds up or we receive some good measurable precipitation, I will remain optimistic," Siders says.
The prolonged drought situation has given some crops a chance to strut their stuff.
Sesame is one.
It got high marks at the 2012 Stiles Farm Field Day this summer.
"This is the first time since I've been farm manager at the Stiles Farm we've had sesame, and it's got a lot of potential for Blacklands farmers," says Archie Abrameit, Texas AgriLife Extension farm manager.
Its formidable drought tolerance has made sesame a standout among crops. And it can be planted well into July—for example, after failed cotton—if needed.
Charles Stichler, a retired AgriLife Extension agronomist and now an independent consultant at Knippa, has spent much of his career working with sesame production in Texas. He notes the Sesaco Corp. line of sesame at the Stiles Farm was thriving even as some corn and other crops were showing real moisture stress due to the lack of rain.
"At the Luling Foundation (east of San Antonio), everything else was dead last year during the drought, but the sesame was alive and well," Stichler says.
Sorghum is another crop having a chance to show its advantages.
Texas grain sorghum plantings are up by about 750,000 acres this year over last.
Calvin Trostle, Texas AgriLife Extension agronomist, Lubbock, says there are reasons that USDA's mid-summer estimate had projected Texas sorghum at 2.3 million acres.
"There's a couple of things that pulled the acreage back up," Trostle says. "Grain sorghum prices, which are tied to corn, remain strong. Also the Drought of 2011 reminded some people that corn has more risk involved than sorghum."
Corn is a riskier crop than sorghum during a drought for a couple of reasons, he notes. One, sorghum is more drought-tolerant and more likely to produce a crop when there is limited rainfall or irrigation capacity.
Another risk factor for corn that sorghum doesn't have is alflatoxin development during dry weather.
"Aflatoxin is just not an issue in grain sorghum the way it is in corn," Trostle says.
Trostle reports that a fair amount of grain sorghum was planted on the High Plains during the first two weeks of July. For some, sorghum was an option to drought-destroyed or hailed-out cotton in Texas.
"Some of that was primary crop sorghum, with a fair amount of acreage being put in after failed cotton," he says.
Meanwhile, Siders reports that peanuts on the Texas High Plains are about one to two weeks ahead of where they were at this time last year.
"Irrigation is critical at this point in peanuts," Siders says. "It is critical not only for the plant to grow but also it creates an environment which is conducive for peg penetration in the soil."
Siders points out if the soil surface is too hot and dry, the pegs will not develop properly, and hence no peanut pod.
Weeds continue to be a challenge for peanuts—just as they are in cotton—but he says there are excellent herbicides labeled for peanuts.
Dry on the range
Veteran Shackelford County AgriLife Extension Agent Rocky Vinson says the drought certainly hasn't ended in his Albany, Texas area—some of Texas' traditionally best ranch country.
"It's sure not over here," Vinson assures.
Vinson says rangeland and pastures are hurting, and producers are watching stock water supplies. Some stock tanks were critically low in West Central Texas.
Whether it rains soon—or not—many stockmen are grubbing brush in an attempt to conserve and free up water, he reports. Just one average size mesquite tree will consume about 50 gallons of water per day. Multiplied by many thousands of mesquite and the water-robbing ability of brush become evident. Some also are working to control prickly pear and cedar brush.
Livestock have been generally in good condition, but some have started to decline as summer heat and dry conditions have prevailed. Many calves are still being sold early. Grasshopper pressure increased in some areas, and some producers were spraying to control them.
In South Texas, some stock tanks had gone completely dry.
Overall, Texas needs rain.