Relentless rains not a blessing to local growers

A 2016 photo of a flooded cornfield in Fort Bend County. (photo courtesy of Texas A&M Agrilife Extension)
Tim Howsare

For crop producers, rain can be both a blessing and a curse.
During a drought, like the one we had in 2011, farmers in Panhandle were praying for rain.
But lately, most local farmers have been praying for just the opposite. They want the rain to stop.
“This is probably one of toughest years producers have faced,” said Kristy Slough, agriculture agent for the Hutchinson County Texas A&M Agrilife Extension in Stinnett. “I talked to one (producer) and he said he hasn’t seen anything like this since 1978.”
Slough said the ground is too wet for farmers who haven’t planted yet to get in. And producers who have already planted are having a tough time as well.
“Early planted stuff like corn and is not doing well,” she said. “They are showing signs of too much water.”
Slough said a lot of the seeds in the ground have rotted from an excess of moisture and the corn is experiencing nitrogen leeching.
“There’s no growth at all. It’s almost like the corn is drowning itself. That is not the case everywhere, but that is overwhelming sentiment right now. Some producers were able to plant last weekend, but it was a very short window.”
Milo and wheat producers also have been impacted.
“The weather has been tough on wheat producers,” Slough said. “”The storms that brought hail have hurt the wheat yield and the lack of heat is delaying a lot of the wheat maturity.”
What needs to happen is for the weather to dry out, she said, meaning not only less rain, but less humidity as well.
“When you get cool, muggy days like today (Thursday), you’re not getting any evaporation,” Slough said. “We need the sun, and a nice breeze would be beneficial.”
She said the ground is so saturated that one producer said that right now the only difference between getting a quarter inch of rain versus two inches is the runoff. Regardless of whether it’s a little or lot, the ground is too saturated to absorb anymore.
“It’s like in your personal garden,” she said. “You can’t plant in slushy mud. You want it to be moist but slushy mud is difficult.”
Slough said that by May 15 last year, most producers were already done planting.
“But (this year) it’s almost mid June and we have some producers who don’t even have a seed in the ground.”
The USDA said Thursday that at this time last year, 90 percent of the corn crop in the nation’s 18 biggest corn-producing states had been planted. This year, just 67 percent of corn is in the ground.
Another issue, Slough said, is the soil.
w“We have a clay soil type and it takes two or three days for it to get dry enough for a tractor to get on it to plant,” she said.
Though it has been rainy throughout the Panhandle in recent weeks, Slough said the northernmost counties have been affected the most.
“There is wa strip that has probably had close to 20 inches since May 1st,” she said. “That’s more than the annual rainfall period.”
Slouwgh said that “pretty wide strip” starts around north of Pringle, moves north to Morse, then into Hansford County to Spearman and then into Ochiltree County.
The News-Herald contacted the National Weather Service in Amarillo to see if there might soon be relief to these relentless days of rain. A meteorologist said no such luck is in the seven-day forecast.
Slough said there are some insurance programs out there for producers who have planted their crops.
“But some assistance programs don’t even cover costs,” she said. “It is a very trying time for agriculture right now.”