Because of the drought, there’ll be no such thing as dryland crops in the Panhandle and South Plains regions of Texas this year, says Nicholas Kenny, Texas AgriLife Extension Service irrigation specialist based in Amarillo.
Dryland crops failed weeks ago in most other areas, too, according to reports from AgriLife Extension county agents.
Despite some areas receiving rain, in most of the state record-breaking temperatures – above 110° in some places – continued to hammer agricultural production, say AgriLife Extension personnel. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 70% of the state was experiencing exceptional drought as of June 21. About 91% was in one stage of drought or another.
Kenny's responsibilities encompass all of the Texas Panhandle and portions of the South Plains region, where 100°-plus temperatures, wind and low humidity have pushed evapotranspiration rates up as high or higher than they usually are in July or August.
"Certainly, there's going to be no dryland corn, sorghum is going to be questionable, and if it continues like this, there will be no dryland cotton to speak of," Kenny says. "We've had a lot of germination issues. A lot of people have planted and just been sandblasted and sun-blasted so badly that they're running out of time to be successful at all."
Irrigated crops were surviving, he says, but with as much as 0.6” of moisture being lost per day from evapotranspiration, irrigators were running center pivots around the clock just to keep up with water needs.
Though irrigators were stressing their resources, they were much better off than their dryland counterparts. Most irrigators were splitting water between corn and cotton.
"At this point, very few are able to keep up 100% with water demand, but if they practiced good soil storage strategies, where they've been able to bank some of the water during the year, then they’ve been able to mitigate the ET (evapotranspiration) losses," says Kenny.
On the other hand, irrigators have had the advantage of some very low natural gas prices. (Most irrigation pumps are powered with natural gas.) And because so many dryland fields have failed, high commodity prices should offset the increased costs of constant irrigation pumping.
More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force Web site at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/.