January's regional snow helped, but drought concerns remain
By: Sarah Self-Walbrick
In mid-January, flurries fell across different parts of West Texas. But, the snow didn't do much to help drought conditions on the South Plains, reports a Texas Tech University researcher.
Once the recent snow completely melts, the amount of precipitation will equal less than an inch, said Glen Ritchie, chair of Texas Tech's Department of Plant and Soil Science. It also came at an unhelpful time for most crops.
"Generally, in December or January, you can expect to get about 50 percent of the benefit out of that water," he said. "If we were able to plant next week, we'd probably be in pretty good shape."
The Lubbock area got just 11.5 inches of precipitation in all of 2020. The National Weather Service reports that's the 10th lowest yearly total on record. The average is around 19 inches. It wasn't as bad as some years in the past decade, but still low enough for concern.
Ritchie said timing is important in agriculture. Rain is critical in the spring, when many crops are planted. After May of last year, the Lubbock area was exceptionally hot and dry. He said almost all crops on the South Plains last year struggled in the warm, arid climate.
"If you don't have rainfall, then your crop really suffers," Ritchie said. "You can go from the potential of being able to get a bale of cotton per acre to suddenly you're just plowing it up at the end of the year because the crop hasn't produced enough to pay for itself."
Ritchie said irrigation systems are an option, but it gets expensive. Rain is what's needed.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll be able to get enough rainfall to be able to have a good growing season," he said. "But it would surprise me if we had above average rainfall."
Before the snow, sorghum and wheat farmer Scott Irlbeck said his crop was delayed and stalks were short when it did emerge. It was a relief after months of drought conditions. Scott Irlbeck has close ties to Tech's College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, with his wife, Erica Irlbeck, serving as a professor in Tech's Department of Agricultural Education and Communications.
"Wheat is one of those crops that loves snow," he said. "One, the moisture. And two, snow apparently has nitrogen in it. And so it's kind of like a fertilizer that you don't have to pay for."
CONTACT: Glen Ritchie, Department Chair, Department of Plant and Soil Science, Texas Tech University at (806) 742-4325 or email@example.com
0115NM21 / PHOTO: Jayme Lozano/Texas Tech Public Media
Editor's Note: For a full text version of Sarah Self-Walbrick's story from Texas Tech Public Media, please click here
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