When will it rain? That question has become a predictable beginning to conversations (even with non- agricultural types) during the past month. And when city folks begin complaining, you know conditions out in the country are getting serious.
Across South Texas, rain (or more specifically the lack of rainfall) has been the primary topic of conversation with farmers and ranchers since around Thanksgiving. Now, the continuing dry conditions in this part of the state are beginning to affect everyone.
Over the years, I have learned that when the city dwellers start grumbling about having to water their lawns too frequently, country folk have been enduring semi-drought conditions for months. When homeowners in town have to keep the sprinklers running to keep some green in the lawns, livestock producers are trying to stretch their hay resources and thinking about which cows will be sent to the sale barn first.
Additionally, farmers are staying awake wondering if that expensive planting seed will ever get enough moisture to germinate in time to produce a harvestable crop. And if not, how will the land rent and planting expenses be paid?
Based on the long-range weather forecast for the South Texas region, lawn watering will be necessary for most homeowners, at least for the next couple of months. April and May are projected to be two more months with warmer and drier conditions than normal. That forecast is very disappointing to South Texas farmers and ranchers. They remember vividly the spring of 2006 when conditions across the region were very similar. Luckily for those watering lawns, the heavy rains last summer resulted in reservoir levels above those in 2006.
This season, area farmers had a chance to get on sound financial footing because of strong commodity prices. However, sharp price increases in tractor fuel, fertilizer, and most every other crop production input make anything but high crop yields potentially devastating financially.
The bottom line: late April and early May are usually "make or break" times of the year for South Texas agriculture. Good rains in that timeframe generally result in good field crop yields and improved grazing for livestock as they head into the hot summer months. Lets hope that "La Nina" loses its grip and all of Texas has a return to more favorable rainfall conditions.
You can get the latest "South Texas Drought Information Statement" from the National Weather Service on the web. Also check out their "Weather Chronicles" newsletter for an explanation of why the precipitation situation has changed so drastically during the past six months.
The other hot topic among rural residents and agricultural landowners during the past six months has been the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor. During February, the Texas Department of Transportation conducted a series of public meetings and hearings around South Texas.
Much to the surprise of most rural residents in South Texas, the route being proposed for the super-highway/railway corridor from Victoria to Laredo would not be constructed by expanding existing major highways like U.S. 77 or U.S. 59 to interstate specifications. Instead, the project proposes taking thousands of acres of productive agricultural land and rural homesteads in order to make a new toll-way traffic corridor.
Officials made no comment at these hearings about the issues related to the proposed operating rights to the toll-way or how farmers and ranchers who will have their properties divided would be given access to their remaining land.
Texas Farm Bureau wants to remind Texans to become educated on this issue and to exercise their right to offer written comment before the upcoming April 18 deadline. Written comments can be mailed to Donald E. Davis, District Engineer, with the Texas Division of the Federal Highway Administration at Federal Building, Room 826, 300 E. 8th St., Austin, TX, 78701.
Electronic comments (limited to 1,000 characters) can also be submitted.
Texas Department of Transportation offices also have comment forms available. It is important to make your opinion known by acting now.
Harvey Buehring is the former Agricultural Extension Agent for Nueces County. Readers may contact him at (361) 767-5223.