BELTON — Although recent rainfall has been uneven, it’s been beneficial for warm-weather crops, according to area agriculture officials.
In early July, a drought information statement from the National Weather Service’s Dallas-Fort Worth office said “in general, spring rains came too late for winter grains” such as wheat and led to nearly two-thirds of Texas’ wheat harvest to be rated as poor or very poor.
The abundant rainfall in Central Texas — Bell County has received 20 to 25 inches since January — led to delays in the wheat harvest.
Not all Central Texas farmers had as bad of luck as the National Weather Service suggests. Robert Fleming, an area farmer, described his wheat harvest as producing a record-setting amount.
The rainfall did help increase the yields for the corn and grain sorghum harvests, said Lyle Zoeller, a Bell County AgriLife Extension agent.
“Producers have just started combining corn and grain sorghum and the harvest will go for 30 days,” Zoeller said. “The yield on corn is up, but the prices are down.”
Bell County produces about 60,000 acres of corn and 40,000 acres of grain sorghum per year, most of which is used for livestock feed.
Fleming said he is preparing for the corn harvest and is “looking at a record-breaking year,” but falling corn prices are a concern.
“Corn is down a good 50 percent from last year,” Fleming said.
Grain sorghum farmers throughout the area faced a new pest this season in the form of the sugarcane aphid, which have been a problem throughout the Rio Grande Valley since 2012, but recently migrated north to the Texas Blacklands.
“They came up from Mexico and are working their way north,” Zoeller said. Even the plants in a grain sorghum trial conducted by Bell County’s Extension Office and a private farmer showed evidence of aphid infestation.
The experiment, which used 67 acres farmed by James Kamas, was part of the Extension Service’s ongoing efforts to present area farmers with the most reliable information about the various different strains of plants available, Zoeller said.
“We planted 23 different varieties of grain sorghum to see which ones are consistently the highest producing,” Zoeller said.
Area cattle production is still recovering from major animal sell-offs due to 2011’s record drought. The large-scale reduction in herd population has lead to significant increases in cattle prices.
“Cattle prices are up three times from what they were in 2011,” Zoeller said. “A $1,000 cow in 2011 would cost $3,000 now.”
Many Bell County ranchers are having a hard time taking advantage of the high cattle prices.
“There just isn’t a lot of cattle in the county,” Fleming said, who also runs cattle. “The drought really thinned out the herd and we’re still having to replace them.”
The lower than average cattle population is expected to keep beef prices high for the next three to four years, Zoeller said. While many area cattle producers were able to reduce their need for supplemental feeding, the state of Central Texas’ pasture land is still of some concern. Fleming said his pastures “aren’t in great shape, but they are in good shape.”
The National Weather Service’s statement described Central Texas’ pasture as “improving” because of the rainfall.
In many areas, weeds have been dominating natural grasses, which deplete the moisture in topsoil and reduce the amount of water that reaches deeper root systems.
Additionally, the runoff from the rain has been largely inadequate to significantly improve stock tank levels, according to the Weather Service.