The Southwest hasn’t had to endure all the 12 plagues of Egypt this growing season but they’ve had enough to test most folks’ religion just with dust, wind, drought and wildfires that, all combined, will result in millions of dollars of crop losses before harvests conclude.

A few areas have received rain in the past few weeks but recent reports indicate that all areas of Texas and most of the rest of the region remain under at least some category of drought. Most of Texas and Oklahoma qualify in a severe to exceptional drought status.

As Terry McCalister, who farms between Wichita Falls and Vernon, says, “It’s BAD in North Texas.

“We finished wheat harvest today, and yields generally ran from 2 bu. to 10 bu./acre,” he says. “We had a couple of ‘outstanding’ fields that made 20 bu., but they were the exception. We should not have cut some of these fields, as they were worse than we thought, but we owned two combines and had already made the decision to just run over the acres. Sometimes in disgust you do foolish things.”

He’s lived with drought for most of the year, actually going back to last fall.

“We received 1.5 in. of rain May 19, which is the only appreciable moisture we’ve had since November. We jumped in the fields May 22 and 23, planting sesame and hay. With temperatures over 100°, and winds over 30 mph, the moisture was gone before most of the seed sprouted. Some of it came up but it is not a good stand.

“We don’t have moisture to get cotton up, and the forecast is not in our favor. Our final plant date for cotton is June 20. We plan to wait until about June 13 to start putting seed in the ground. Then it will be out of our hands. If it rains and comes up, great, and, if not, we’ll be begging at the feet of our insurance company for a check!”

Wildfires have added to McAlister’s woes.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time fighting grass fires as there is usually one every day somewhere,” he says. He can’t remember a worse drought.

“This is as bad a situation as I have ever seen in North Texas. We have a lot of stock water because we cleaned several ponds 8-10 years ago, but it won’t be long before there’ll be no grass and little water. The fact we’re entering that time of summer when there are rarely any drought-breaking rains is also of great concern.”

It’s not much better in Southwest Oklahoma.

Keeff Felty, who farms near Altus, says conditions are dry and summer heat and high winds are taking a toll.

“Right now it is 99° with wind from the south at 20 miles per hour and gusts to 30.”
Recent rains gave them some hope, for a little while.

“We had 1.2 to 4 in. of rain about two weeks ago,” Felty says. “Some cotton was dry planted and dried out again before it had a chance to sprout. Some sprouted and died. Some made it, but the moisture did not meet below it.”

He says the irrigation district released lake water May 31. “We’ve been allocated 6 in. for the year. It will take most of that on the first watering.”

Felty says most of the irrigated cotton has been planted. “Wheat harvest is basically over. The yields ranged from 5-40 bu./acre. Most were averaging around 20 to 24.”

Garden spot

Northeast Texas may be the most promising spot in the region, says Jim Swart, Texas AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist.

“The wheat crop is very good with many growers averaging around 60 bu./acre,” Swart said. “We are about halfway through harvest. The corn and grain sorghum crops are promising and look very good at this time.”

The area has received what growers refer to as “adequate rainfall,” since early spring.
Rusty Strickland, a peanut and cotton farmer from Quail, Texas, says conditions remain dry.

“The last (appreciable) rain we had was Nov. 12. We got four-tenths about a month ago, but numerous days of 40-mph wind have this country in sad shape. My irrigated crop is planted and up. We are running our pivots non-stop.”

He’s planted mostly cotton, “with a couple of circles of peanuts. We need a rain and less wind to continue yielding like normal,” he says.

Todd Baughman, Texas Extension peanut specialist and agronomist at Vernon, TX, says peanut acreage is down.

“Peanut acres were going to be off this year anyway,” he says. “Dry weather and cotton prices already had taken 35-40% of the acres prior to this continued drought.”

He says Rolling Plains cotton farmers are waiting to plant dryland acreage. “Most dryland acres have not been planted in the Rolling Plains with much of the areas’ last planting date June 20. We will likely start seeing quite a bit go in dry this week.”
He predicts that most intended acreage will be planted.