Major rain events last week brought some much-needed relief to hay growers and livestock producers in East Texas. But locals say it still remains to be seen how the welcome precipitation will affect the remainder of the growing season.

Texas A&M Agri-Life Extension agent Aaron Low reports that most of Cherokee County received 3” of rain mid-week. Heading into the week, rainfall for the county was 10-12” below normal for the year.

“We had plenty of precipitation through the winter,” says Low. “But then, in March, the water just shut off and things stayed extremely dry all the way through until last week. That rain greened things up, but we’re still way behind on moisture.”

As soon as the rains stopped last week, Low adds, people were in the field cutting first-crop bermudagrass. “A lot of what was out there may not have been ready for cutting. But people were hoping to get that crop off and get some regrowth going for second crop while we still have some soil moisture.”

He notes that regional hay stocks were already stretched thin coming out of the winter. Along with an unusually long, cold winter that required livestock producers to feed more hay, last year’s severe drought in Central Texas also played a role. “A lot of people here who had hay sold their excess to take advantage of good prices. As far as supplies go right now, everybody is pretty much running on empty.”

As much as anything else, says Low, last week’s precipitation gave people some hope. “A lot of beef producers here were just about to the breaking point, looking at herd reductions or even liquidations. This should hold us over for a little while longer. But by no means are we in the clear.”

He’s advising people who anticipate needing hay this year to start lining up a supply now. “If you can find it and can afford it, buy it,” he says. “The price is only likely to keep going up.”

Last week also brought 2-3” of rain to most of nearby Wood County (just east of Dallas). Along with extremely dry weather, cool temperatures had stunted hay growth in the county through April and May. “It’s only been in the last two or three weeks that we’ve had the kind of nighttime temperatures you need to promote the excessive growth of bermudagrass,” says county agent Clint Perkins. “Even then, what was out there wasn’t really growing. It was mainly just trash. Now, with the rain we got last week, things have started to come on a little bit.”

Perkins is hoping last week’s rain is a signal that the weather in East Texas this year will mirror 2009. At the start of last year’s growing season, rainfall was extremely short through the end of June. “But then it started raining around the Fourth of July, and it kept right on raining for the rest of the season. We produced more hay in August than we did in May and June put together. You just never know.”

Growers with hay to sell or livestock producers looking to buy hay can contact the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Hay Hotline. The Web site also has links to hay marketing sites in other states and a listing of pastureland available for lease.

To contact Low, phone 903-683-5416 or email arlow@ag.tamu.edu. Perkins can be contacted at 903-763-2924 or ctperkins@ag.tamu.edu.