South Texas cotton farmers got the drenching rain they so desperately needed this past weekend, as they pre-pared to plant their 2011 crop, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.
“It was great — a blessing,” said Brad Cowan, an AgriLife Extension agent in Hidalgo County. “There are a lot of happy farmers today. The rain was nice and slow for the most part. There is not much standing water in the fields because it all soaked in. It was ideal.”
Lower Rio Grande Valley cotton growers narrowly escaped rain and floodwater damage from Hurricane Alex last summer, but little or no rain had fallen since, according to Dr. Ruben Saldaña, an AgriLife Extension adminis-trator in Weslaco.
“According to the National Weather Service, South Texas has suffered the driest three-month period, from Sep-tember to December, since records have been kept, in some areas dating back to the late 1800s,” he said.
The extremely dry weather was due to a “moderate to strong La Niña,” coupled with an atmospheric condition known as the arctic oscillation, according to the weather service’s website.
“Of the 17 cold fronts we’ve had, 16 were dry with a low humidity. And after those fronts, it got warm again. That’s a world of difference from an El Niño year,” said Barry Goldsmith, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Brownsville.
Rainfall amount ranged from almost 4 inches in Brownsville to .15 inches at Falcon Dam in Zapata County, drenching most agricultural areas in the process, Saldaña said.
“It was a nice, slow rain, a good soaker, and depending on how much rain a particular area got, a sign of hope,” he said. “Growers, especially in the dryland areas of the Valley where they depend totally on rainfall, were start-ing to wonder whether it would be worthwhile to plant anything. Why plant if it’s just going to die? But now we have something to work with.”
Grain sorghum growers will savor the timely rainfall, then start planting seed in the coming weeks, he said.
“Sorghum is usually planted around the first of February, but this year we’ll see a lot more cotton than last year because of higher-than-normal market prices.”
Cowan said the rains provided moisture at the top of the soil profile that is needed to help seeds germinate and send roots to lower levels of soil still moist from Hurricane Alex and the tropical storm that followed.
“The rains may have temporarily slowed down the harvest of citrus, sugarcane and winter vegetables, but for soil conditions overall, the rain was super. It was very welcomed,” he said.
Cotton planting in the Lower Rio Grande Valley starts Feb. 1, with most cotton planted between Feb. 15 and March 15, Saldaña said.
“Cotton is an expensive, complicated crop to grow,” he said. “But this rain provided one less thing to worry about. A lot can happen between now and harvest in August, but at least we’re off to what looks to be a good start.”
While the rain was certainly no drought-buster, the relief was welcome. Still, that relief could be brief, Gold-smith said.
“Unfortunately, a continued moderate to strong La Niña suggests only temporary relief, with a return to dry, warm conditions likely as we head into spring 2011.”