The earliest Easter in recent history arrived with most locations in South Texas remaining on the dry side. Since mid-January, rains have been light and spotted around the region.
The exceptions have been areas near Corpus Christi and up the coastline. Winds have been brisk, persistent and responsible for accelerating the drying of topsoil moisture following what few scattered showers have "checker-boarded" the area.
A quick check of the rainfall records at the National Weather Service office in Corpus Christi indicates that since October, the Nueces County area was 7.85 inches below average in rainfall. That equates to a shortfall of -1.58 inches per month since Oct. 1.
Folks who operate farms and ranches west of Corpus Christi can testify to the fact that soils are becoming extremely dry. Locations like Mathis, Orange Grove, Agua Dulce and Alice are approaching negative rainfall amounts that are in the range of 10 inches or more for the past five months.
Now that the planting of spring is taking place, many fields, particularly those located west of state Highway 77, are in need of rainfall to provide adequate soil moisture to germinate planting seed and sustain newly emerging seedling plants.
This situation has placed some farmers in a situation where they are dry-planting or waiting for a rain.
Unfortunately, the long-range weather forecast for the week following Easter has no hint of possible rainfall for the lower Coastal Bend farming area or the South Texas brush country ranches. That means that farmers may be forced to dry-plant their remaining crop acreage before the crop insurance deadline in order to have their crop covered during this production year.
Cattle producers that have cows with fall-born calves are faced with increasing supplemental feeding demands with higher cost feeds, or pulling calves at a lighter weight and shipping them to auction sale barns.
Trying to keep the body condition of lactating cows from worsening to the same degree that the grazing land is without moisture can be a no-win proposition. The only economically viable option is to market calves earlier and lighter than intended in an effort to keep the breeding cows healthy and productive.
Once again, dry weather is not allowing South Texas cattle producers to keep the number of replacement heifers that had been hoped. A good, soaking rain in the near future could prevent potential reductions in breeding age cattle numbers.
If the dry conditions continue into the summer, cow herds will be culled deeper than usual. All these actions will result in even fewer cattle in a part of the country that has never been able to re-stock to the cattle numbers of a decade ago.
A check of the data compiled by Texas Agricultural Statistics on breeding beef cows in the five reporting areas that make up South and South Central Texas shows that between 1996 and 2006, this part of Texas had a decline of 73,000 beef cows.
Statewide during the same 10-year period, the beef cow herd in Texas dropped by some 445,000 breeding age females. It should be pointed out that 1996 was a very dry year, when most of the South Texas region was at least 40 percent below the normal annual rainfall by year's end.
Despite the difficulty Texas producers have had in rebuilding their cattle numbers during the past 10 years, the state is still the dominant producer of beef cattle in the United States.
A good example of that fact is that the state second to Texas in the number of beef cows that have calved is Missouri. That state had a total of 2.15 million while Texas had just over 5.3 million producing beef cows. That is a difference of 3.15 million cows.
Another way of looking at these numbers is that Texas has about two times more beef cows than the next biggest beef producing state. No bragging involved - it's just another fact about our great state.
Harvey Buehring is the former Agricultural Extension Agent for Nueces County. Readers may contact him at (361) 767-5223.