IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Texas rains help farmers but more needed

South Plains cotton producer Don Langston didn't get as much rain this past weekend as he'd wanted, but it was enough for now.
Farm Scene Texas Drought
Much of Texas had looked like this dried up stock tank near Taylor, seen Feb. 19, until recent rains.Matt Felder / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

South Plains cotton producer Don Langston didn't get as much rain this past weekend as he'd wanted, but it was enough for now.

Langston farms just south of Lubbock, the hub of the world's largest cotton patch, and got less than a half-inch of rain from showers that moved across the region Saturday and Sunday.

"We were very glad for it," said Langston, who is still preparing his field for planting cotton in a few more weeks. "It's allowing us to go in there and pitch out sand from the rows. We've been doing that all morning."

Recent rains across most of Texas the past week gave agricultural producers a glimmer of hope for greening pastures and soil wet enough for planting. In the past seven days, every part of the state except south Texas got some rain.

Northeast Texas benefited the most, with some places receiving as much as 2 inches. The rains also helped hundreds of firefighters extinguish wind-whipped grassfires that have killed three people and scorched thousands of acres since igniting Thursday in counties along the Oklahoma border near Wichita Falls.

A lot of fencing burned in the fires but the rain also brought life to parched pastures.

"It'll make that grass come back on," said Dave Scott, president of the Fort Worth-based Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. "Hope for more. Hope for more."

The grass growth, though encouraging, is far from enough.

"You're not going to get significant grazing off that," said Travis Miller, Texas AgriLife Extension Service drought specialist.

Cattle producers' losses to the ongoing drought — about 94 percent of the state is in some stage of dryness — continue to mount with supplemental feed purchases or sales of cattle and calves in a declining market, officials have said.

A month ago state agriculture officials estimated ranchers in the nation's largest cattle-producing state had already lost nearly $1 billion to the drought. Officials said then cattle raisers had lost $829 million since last summer, $569 million of that since November, and that those losses would rise.

In 2006, drought-related crop and livestock losses were the state's worst for a single year, totaling $4.1 billion.

South Texas desperately needs rain, said Victor Murphy of the National Weather Service in Fort Worth. "That area is still getting worse," he said.

Brownsville has seen only about 1.2 inches of precipitation since Dec 1, the second driest such span on record, and the driest since 1952. The normal is 5.5 inches.

In McAllen, where records go back to only 1961, Dec. 1 to April 13 was the driest ever, with only 1.13 inches.

Bandera County, just northwest of San Antonio where the worst stage of drought has persisted since early January, is seeing improvement.

Still the area around Tarpley remains behind by about 15 inches, said Central Texas rancher Debbie Davis.

Davis' ranch got about 2.5 inches about three weeks ago and another third of an inch Sunday.

"Our attitude is better," she said. "I can't say the drought is broken; widespread rain has not happened yet, but it's starting to look like spring."

Davis said her husband ascribes to a theory about weather patterns: When it goes dry, it stays dry; when it starts to rain, more rains come.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed," she said.

Langston hopes the Davises are right. He said he'll need some good rains before planting — about 3 inches to fill the soil profile. Rains in September went deep.

"It's the top foot that's real dry," the 69-year-old farmer said. "We need enough rain for the top moisture to meet what's down deep."