Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tips to Improve Rainfall Effectiveness

    The title of this column takes an optimistic look into the future, and that is, we are one day closer to a good rain!  If you are in the livestock business, utilizing native Texas rangeland, you know that rainfall is the major limiting factor to your production potential.  Yes, there have been attempts with technology, like cloud seeding, to increase precipitation, but the fact remains technology has not ended the historic drought that we are experiencing.
    So if technology cannot turn on the water from the sky when we need it, we have to look at management tools that can improve the effectiveness of rainfall events when they do occur.  Research has shown that the amount of rainfall runoff from a particular range site is directly related to vegetation on the site.  Generally speaking, sites that are dominated with plants that provide good ground cover hold rainfall on the site the best.  In contrast, sodgrasses or bare ground do not provide sufficient plant litter cover to allow for effective infiltration of the rainfall, thus we see heavy runoff and soil loss.
    Evaporation is another source of water loss on our rangelands. The amount of water lost through evaporation from the plant canopies or soil surface is related to the intensity of the rainfall event and the weather conditions that follow the event.  As you move west in our state, this evaporation loss increases.
    We know that not all plants found on our rangelands are desirable for livestock and wildlife production.  Brush or toxic and /or noxious weeds deplete water that could be used for more desirable species.
    So with these factors in mind, here are some tips to help improve rainfall effectiveness on our rangelands.  First we should work on reducing runoff, as this can represent a serious loss of water from our ranch.  Research has shown that rangeland infiltration rates generally increase as total plant cover increases.  The plant cover slows the water movement across the soil surface allowing more time for water to infiltrate before being lost down creeks and draws.  Plant cover also protects the soil surface from rain drop splash.  Vegetation type also affects runoff.  Bunchgrasses are more effective at reducing runoff than sodgrasses, while Oak mottes produce even less runoff.  Livestock stocking rates, grazing systems, and species of livestock are all major management tools that can be used to manage the range forage base as well.
    Another important factor to improve rainfall effectiveness is reducing the undesirable weed and brush species.  It has been estimated that mesquite uses 100 gallons of water for each pound of above ground plant growth produced.  Perennial grasses are more efficient users of water requiring from 40 to 75 gallons of water for each pound of above -ground biomass produced.  The amount of water used by unwanted plants can vary greatly from ranch to ranch depending on the species of plants present and their density.  Having a plan to manage these undesirable plants can help improve the efficiency of water use for livestock and wildlife.
    The harvest of vegetation by livestock must be limited to ensure regrowth and reproduction of perennial range vegetation.  An old rule of thumb goes something like this, 50% of forage should be left standing for health of the plant, 25% will be lost to trampling, weathering, or consumption by insects and small mammals, which leaves only 25% that is actually consumed by livestock.  For most of us, that means we should have reduced stocking rates a long time ago.
    Bottomline, rainfall represents the single most limiting factor to livestock production on our Texas rangelands.  We have to do the best job possible at managing these range sites so that when we are blessed with a rainfall event, our rangelands can take full advantage of that precious water resource and keep it on site, and store in the soil profile, for the dry times that will come again.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Grain Sorghum Management in Times of Drought

    Typically by this time of year, grain sorghum is being planted with hopes that this drought and heat tolerant crop will produce yields that will help carry the local farm economy.  There is one major problem this year however, you have to have some soil moisture to produce a grain crop.  Currently we have very little stored soil moisture in Nueces County and precipitation forecasts are not desirable.
    So if you are considering what to plant, know that it takes more water to produce grain than a forage crop, so in order to minimize risk one might consider growing forage sorghum for hay or silage in place of a grain crop. Moreover, during periods of drought, hay shortages are often present providing a good market for hay.
    If the decision is made to produce a grain crop, management strategies should be altered to minimize risk. Hybrid selection, planting date, fertilizer rates, seeding rates, and weed control
strategies may all need to be altered.
    So when considering which hybrid, generally this will be shorter maturing hybrids. With  sorghum, not only should length of maturity and drought tolerance be considered, but also try to find a hybrid that produces fewer tillers. These strategies tend to shift more of the available water into producing grain rather than vegetation. Yield potential will not be as high, but the risk of producing little or no grain will be minimized.

    Since potential yield will be reduced during a drought, fertilizer rates should be reduced. As a general rule of thumb fertilizer rates should be reduced 25% from what is normally applied.
Also consider applying no more than one-third of the needed N fertilizer preplant. The rest of
the N can be applied as a side-dress application 30 days after emergence. Only apply the sidedress application if the prospect for producing grain is good.
    Planting date should be flexible. Do not plant sorghum in dry soil unless you are confident that rainfall is eminent. Wait as long as possible for some precipitation to wet the soil where the seed will be placed. Be prepared to plant immediately following the precipitation event.
    Weeds that are drought stressed will be more difficult to control. For this reason using a preemergence herbicide is usually the best option. However, pre-emergence herbicides will require rainfall to move them into the soil or must be mechanically incorporated. If no rainfall occurs within six days after applying the herbicide consider incorporating with a rolling cultivator or harrow. Try not to incorporate the herbicide more than 2 inches. If post emergence herbicides must be used, treat weeds when they are small (less than 3 inches) and are easier to control.
    It is very important that seeding rate of sorghum be reduced when experiencing drought
conditions. Reduce seeding rate at least 25% from normal rates. Also consider using a skip row
pattern of only planting ever-other-row or a two-in one-out arrangement. This will tend to allow
the crop to better utilize any available water that may be present in the soil.
    Finally, following harvest, tillage operations should be kept to a minimum in order
to maximize precipitation storage in the soil for next year’s crop.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Take the 40 Gallon Challenge

    As the drought worsens, our local water supply continues to decrease as we are currently in Stage 2 of  Mandatory Water Restrictions.  That means that outdoor watering is restricted to before 10 am and  after 6 pm.  In addition large property owners must obtain approval for a watering plan and Commercial Nurseries must use hand held devices, drip or sprinkler systems to irrigate.
    To help facilitate water conservation, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service is strengthening its challenge to Texans to save millions of gallons of water annually as well as money on their monthly water bills.  The 40 Gallon Challenge is a program that calls on residents and businesses to reduce their average water use by 40 gallons per day, according to Dr. Diane Boellstorff, AgriLife Extension water resources specialist in College Station.
    Boellstorff became involved in the voluntary national program in 2011, serving as the Texas representative.  After one year, she and AgriLife Extension economist Dean McCorkle in College Station completed an economic impact study in November, which showed that Texas participants, based on average municipal rates, were saving an estimated $299,000 a year, in addition to the water savings.
    “At the time that we did the impact statement, we were able to count 80 programs from 89 counties, and participation continues to increase,” she said. “For example, the impact statement mentions 1,050 participating households saving 71 million gallons of water annually, but today’s numbers are 1,152 participating households saving 80 million gallons annually.”
That change has come in only three months. Boellstorff said many AgriLife Extension agents are beginning to deliver the program in their local counties. She is also making presentations to spread the program across the state.
    This water resource conservation tool is one of many programs initiated and supported through the Southern Region Water Resource Project, funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture – National Institute for Food and Agriculture. Dr. Mark McFarland, AgriLife Extension state soil fertility specialist in College Station, is the project director.
    The 40-Gallon Challenge allows Texans to compete against other Americans who are taking the challenge in their states. At the program’s website,, Texans can pledge to adopt water-saving practices and see how many gallons of water they can expect to save.  The website also shows the most popular practices being pledged, the practices that are saving the most water daily, and counties and states that are pledging the most daily savings, Boellstorff said.
    Currently, the top water savers in Texas are “reduce irrigation station runtimes by two minutes,” “use a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks,” and “fix a leaky toilet.” In Texas, the three counties registered to save the most gallons are Collin, Ellis and Dallas.
    To start saving water and take the challenge, go to the website;    and complete the checklist of water-saving practices, its time for Nueces County residents to make a mark on the map.  The checklist includes both indoor and outdoor water-saving tips.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


Drought of 2012 - limited standing forage in December
  Here is South Texas, most of our pastures are very short in standing forage at this time, while the drought continues to persist.  Here are some tips offered by Dr. Dennis Herd for consideration in feeding cattle during drought.

Where pasture is lacking in amount as well as quality, the following suggestions are offered:
    If only slightly limited, the feeding of range cubes (20% protein) or mixtures of grain and
cottonseed meal at rates of 3 to 5 pounds per cow daily may work for a while. Cubes with
a large amount of natural protein and a low crude fiber level (less than 10%) would be

    When pasture becomes extremely short, purchase of hay or a replacement feed for the
pasture must be considered as well as selling of stock. Remember that most grass hay has
only 50 to 65% the energy content of grain so that one pound of grain can replace 1.5 to
2.0 pounds of hay. A pound of grain will only replace 1.2 to 1.4 pounds of alfalfa hay. It is necessary to start cows on grain slowly and feed so that all cows have opportunity for their share of the feed. It is possible to feed up to 80% grain in a maintenance diet for British bred cows, but such high levels should not be considered for Brahman cattle. All cattle need some forage in the diet to minimize digestive problems.

In the absence of sufficient nutrients, particularly energy, cows lose considerable weight. When such weight losses occur, milk production decreases and reproductive activity may cease. The end result is light-weight calves and unbred cows. To prevent such undesirable effects, cows either must be provided sufficient nutrients to avoid weight losses and maintain production requirements or they must be relieved totally or partially from body stresses.

For more information related to drought management consult this web site;

Friday, December 21, 2012

Census Provides Opportunity to Grow the Future of Agriculture

    The 2012 Census of Agriculture, the only source of consistent and comprehensive agricultural data for every state and county in the nation, has been mailed to millions of farmers and ranchers across the United States.
Conducted every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the Census provides detailed data covering nearly every facet of U.S. agriculture. It looks at land use and ownership, production practices, expenditures and other factors that affect the way farmers do business and succeed in the 21st Century.
    "The 2012 Census of Agriculture provides farmers with a powerful voice. The information gathered through the Census influences policy decisions that can have a tremendous impact on farmers and their communities for years to come," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "I strongly encourage all farmers, no matter how large or small their operation, to promptly complete and return their Census, so they can voice to the nation the value and importance of agriculture."
    Vilsack added that in addition to affecting policy decisions, Census information also influences community growth and development. Many companies review Census data when determining where to establish or expand their businesses, as well as where they can go for supplies of locally-produced food and agricultural products, which further emphasizes the importance of supplying accurate information. Information from the Census also is valuable to explain the many ways farming is important to urban or non-farming residents and decision-makers.
    "Along with their accomplishments as business men and women, farmers know about the challenges they face in their local areas," said Vilsack. "Taking part in the Census is increasingly important to farmers and every community in America because it provides important information and helps tell the true story about the state of agriculture in the United States today."
    All farmers and ranchers should receive a Census form in the mail by early January. Completed forms are due by February 4, 2013. Farmers can return their forms by mail or online by visiting a secure website, Federal law requires all agricultural producers to participate in the Census and requires NASS to keep all individual information confidential.

For more information about the Census, visit or call 1-888-4AG-STAT (1-888-424-7828). The Census of Agriculture is your voice, your future, your responsibility.


USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, D.C. 20250-9410 or call (800) 795-3272 (voice), or (202) 720-6382 (TDD).

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Blackbuck Antelope on Edwards Plateau in Texas.
    As the northeast cleans up and assess losses in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, the unpredictability of Mother Nature is again on full display.  This severe weather event is just one recent example of the types of uncertainties our farmers face day in and day out, and it serves as a compelling argument for the importance of ensuring that our farmers have the tools they need to succeed in feeding our nation.  Locally we have been dealing with a severe drought the last two years, and we are thankful that our Ag producers have access to risk management tools like crop insurance, that can help offset major financial losses due to weather extremes.  Numbers are still being finalized but it looks like more than 69 % of our gain sorghum acres and 89 % of our cotton acres in Nueces County failed in 2012. We remain hopeful that rains will come soon, as our soil moisture conditions remain very dry and the long-range outlook does not hold much promise.
    With all of that bad news from the drought, we still have an adequate supply of food and fiber in our grocery stores and we are not standing in lines to get a loaf of bread, and yes we are all thankful for that!  As we consider the Thanksgiving of 2012, our food costs have remained very reasonable.  The retail cost of menu items for a classic Thanksgiving dinner including turkey, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie and all the basic trimmings increased less than 1 percent this year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).
AFBF’s 27th annual informal price survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table indicates the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 is $49.48, a 28-cent price increase from last year’s average of $49.20.  U.S. consumers spend just 10% of their income on food-the lowest percentage in the world.  We all are thankful for that!
    Ask most Americans where food comes from and they'll say the grocery store. True, but where did the grocery store get its food? The vast majority of America's food and fiber is grown on farms across the country. With fewer and fewer farmers (farm and ranch families comprise just 2 percent of the U.S. population) standing in between feast and famine, America cannot afford to lose even one working farm.  With that said, we should all be thankful for the farmers and ranchers in this country, as today, the average U.S. farmer feeds 155 people. In 1960, a farmer fed just 26 people.  Moreover, today’s farmer grows twice as much food as his parents did – using less land, energy, water and fewer emissions.
    It is my hope that during this time you are able to spend quality time with family and friends and reflect on the many things you enjoy in life and be thankful for those.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


    The Texas Grain Producers Indemnity Board is holding a referendum on the statewide establishment of a grain indemnity fund. The TGPIB referendum will be held from Nov. 19, 2012, until Dec. 7, 2012 across the state.
    The grain indemnity fund board may award up to 90 percent of the financial losses suffered by producers of corn, sorghum, soybean and wheat when grain buyers fail to pay for grain due to a financial failure. The TGPIB was established as the result of legislation passed by the 2011 Texas legislature and signed into law by the governor.  Rep. Larry Phillips of Sherman and Sen. Craig Estes of Wichita Falls introduced the legislation after a series of grain buyer financial failures in recent years resulted in millions of dollars in losses to Texas grain producers.
    Eligible voters in the referendum will vote to establish an assessment rate within a range of 0.2 percent to 0.6 percent of the final sales price of grain. The assessment, which will be set each year by the TGPIB, will be collected and remitted to the TGPIB effective Feb. 1, 2013.
    Any producer who has produced corn, sorghum, soybeans or wheat within the last 36 months is eligible to vote. This includes owners of farms on which grain is produced or an owner’s tenant or sharecropper engaged in the business of producing grain or causing grain to be produced for commercial purposes.

The referendum will be held by mail ballot. Ballots will be available at all Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county offices during regular business hours.  For a ballot to be valid, it must be mailed to the Texas Department of Agriculture, P.O. Box 12847, Austin, Texas, 78711, with a postmark date of no later than Dec. 7, 2012.

For more information regarding the referendum, please contact the Texas Department of Agriculture, P.O. Box 12847, Austin, Texas, 78711 or call 512-463-3285. To learn more about TGPIB and the indemnity fund, visit