Spring showers spur cotton growth; Parched producers look to rebound
A spate of spring rains has brought smiles to the faces of farmers across West Texas, most of whom weathered a miserably hot and, ultimately, unprofitable summer season last year. The Texas South Plains is in a lot better shape this time around, agrees Glen Ritchie, a crop physiologist with Texas Tech's Department of Plant and Soil Science.
"The rain we've had means we're under less pressure to irrigate early in the season," Ritchie said. "In terms of cotton and sorghum, we're in pretty good shape going into the season, assuming we get seasonable weather from this point forward."
A glance at the data pouring in from university's 67 weather stations indicates recent rain totals ranging anywhere from 2-to 8-inches, and even higher further south. Known as the West Texas Mesonet, the 12-year-old meteorological reporting system is a collaboration of the Atmospheric Science Group and the Wind Science and Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech.
Another positive sign is that plains producers are likely to be saying adios to a devastating 2011-12 La Nina weather pattern. Ritchie, who has a joint appointment with Texas AgriLife Research, believes that farmers can expect improved conditions to continue since most forecasters are predicting less of a La Nina pattern this season, which should increase the summer rainfall amounts over last year.
A La Nina, indicated by a cooling of surface water in the Pacific Ocean, occurs on average every three to five years and usually lasts nine to 12 months, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Still, Ritchie stressed that optimum production will require in-season rainfall. "These early rains will help the crop emerge and grow early, and then we're going to need more moisture to carry us through," he said. "Late June through July is going to be the best, but any moisture we get on irrigated crops will take some of the burden off irrigation systems."
Recent rainfall across much of West Texas has diminished to less than 2 percent the area of the state in the worst drought stage. The U.S. Drought Monitor map released last week shows that hasn't happened since March 2011. Last year was the driest on record for Texas, compounded by blistering temperatures and windy conditions. The drought cost record agriculture losses; an estimated $7.6 billion.
Written by Norman Martin
CONTACT: Glen Ritchie, Assistant Professor, Department of Plant and Soil Science, Texas Tech University at (806) 742-1631 ext. 225 or email@example.com
0524NM12 / PHOTO (top): U.S. Drought Monitor for June 5, 2012