Half of the year is gone—and it sure was better than the first half of last year for farmers and ranchers in Texas and the Southwest. But summer is here, and that will be the real test of whether last year's historic drought and extreme temperature pattern really has been broken.
Rain during the spring months was wonderful, and brought on a strong wheat crop in much of Texas—and the rain continued during May. It surely was encouraging.
"We've had some rain—but we're certainly not out of the woods by any means," says veteran Shackelford County Extension Agent Rocky Vinson, Albany. "It has varied here. The south part of the county has had more rain."
It will take time for range and pasture land to recover from the worst stretch of drought in Texas history, Vinson notes.
"I'm still worried about our warm-season (perennial) grasses," Vinson allows. "It just doesn't seem like they have much vigor."
Vinson says he suspects that is a result of the horrific 2011 drought.
"There's apparently a lot of root damage (to warm-season grasses) from the 2011 drought," Vinson reports. "Roots have just completely dried out in some cases."
He notes the "green" a lot of folks observed early on was cool-season weeds and winter grasses that perked up with the winter/spring moisture, but now are playing out as summer arrives.
Vinson also says some seed likely is waiting to be germinated by more moisture.
Travis Miller, Texas AgriLife Extension Service agronomist and drought spokesperson for the state, College Station, says there's still the possibility for higher than normal temperatures over the next 6 months, and dry weather too.
Into May, Miller observes that about one-third of Texas had received enough moisture to emerge from the drought, but the remainder of the state remained in significant drought when looking at the big picture of a large state. More rain is needed to end the drought for all of Texas.
In the eastern part of Texas, where sufficient rain has been received in 2012, producers are cutting and baling hay. By contrast, in the western part of Texas, ranchers are still feeding supplement or some hay going into summer.
Like Vinson, Miller points out that many Texas ranchers lost stands of perennial grasses from their range and pasture land during the 2011 drought, and those ranchers are highly encouraged not to restock until that grassland has grown back significantly and recovered.
Vinson says in the Shackelford County area in West Central Texas, some forage is coming along, such as forage sorghums, and this offers hope for producers needing hay until more rain brings about a pasture recovery.
A good stand of grass suppresses weeds, Miller notes. So lack of grass paved the way for weeds to get a quick jump after the winter-spring rainfall in many areas.
Another concern is that thousands of tons of hay were transported from all over the United States to Texas during last year's drought. All sorts of weed seed could have hitchhiked into Texas on the hay brought in from out-of-state sources.
That's what really worries Olfen, Texas farmer Bob Fuchs in Runnels County. Fuchs, who loathes weeds, says it is a scary situation when such an enormous amount of hay was shipped into Texas from across the country. He remembers hay shipments introducing the iron weed in Texas during the 1960s.
"I'm really concerned about (new) weeds that may have come into this country with all the hay that was shipped to Texas," Fuchs says. "There's no telling what kind of weed seed were in the hay; especially that harvested along the highways."
"I'm advising cattle operators to look very carefully for weeds they don't recognize, and to contact their AgriLife Extension county agent if they see something that doesn't look right,' he says.
Look at where hay was stacked and fed.
"And of course, cattle take the weed everywhere, so if you seed some unusual weeds where the hay was fed, you're going to see it out in your pastures," Miller cautions.
Crops get big boost
The winter and spring rainfall has resulted in a great wheat crop overall, and the potential to get a cotton crop started strong right out of the ground.
Miller says wheat producers are harvesting one of the best crops in more than a decade in Texas.
"We have an excellent wheat crop through much of the eastern Rolling Plains and the Blacklands," he reports. "It's a beautiful crop, if we can get it out of the field. One of the issues on wheat is that its harvest time coincides with the highest probability of rain, so whereas last year wheat farmers suffered with drought, this year we're hoping we can get some of that beautiful wheat crop cut."
Wheat harvest began extremely early—during the first week of May—in the Abilene region, but then repeated days of rainfall interrupted the wheat harvest and left custom crews with several days where they couldn't enter wet fields.
But that's been good for cotton growers, who hope to get cotton—the state's No. 1 crop—off to a fast and healthy start. Much Texas cotton is planted during late May and through mid-June.
Erick Richards, a Jones County cotton producer from Ericksdahl, Texas says much of the Rolling Plains crop will be planted during June. He's eager to put cottonseed in the ground.
"We want to go back to actually raising a crop," says Richards.
He says Rolling Plains growers are optimistic by moisture and the availability of Topguard (flutriafol) for cotton root rot this season. Root rot is an old enemy.
Last year, Texas planted 7.7 million acres of cotton, only to abandon more than 4 million acres due to the merciless drought, and take only just over 3 million acres to harvest.
Logan Lair, Navarro County AgriLife Extension agent, says no one really knows what will happen in Central Texas the rest of 2012, but says producers should always be prepared for changes in weather—such as drought—and manage land accordingly.
Lair says that means managing pastures carefully and adjusting livestock stocking rates as needed.