No rain, no relief in sight
Milam County’s corn crop has turned mostly into hay, its stock tanks are trending concrete and its afternoons can be hazardous to your health.
Welcome to the summer of 2011.
Some time during the next week, perhaps as soon as Sunday, Rockdale will break its all-time record for number of 100- degree days in a year, with more than a month to go until fall technically arrives.
Less than 10 inches of rain have fallen through the first 7-1/2 months of 2011.
Many corn growers have already turned their crops into “shuck bales” for cattle feed.
‘BREAK-EVEN’—“It’s tough,” County Agent Jon Gersbach told The Reporter. “Corn is our biggest crop here, with about 40,000 acres planted.”
Gersbach estimated those growers who actually made a crop in 2011 averaged a yield between 25 and 30 bushels per acre.
“Our usual average yield is 75 to 80,” he said. “We shoot for 100 and sometimes we do better than that. The average in 2007 was 120 to 130. Of course it rained 52 inches that year.”
And that’s just the corn growers who actually made a crop.
“There were some who got ‘zeroed out’ early by their insurers,” Gersbach said. “They went ahead and baled it up.”
That’s a last-ditch effort. “You really don’t want to be taking a baler into a corn field,” Gersbach said. “It sure beats up that expensive equipment.”
“But I understand totally where they’re coming from,” he said. “It’s simply trying to get back toward breaking even.”
Some growers are baling grain sorghum stubble for the same reason.
COTTON—The drouth and extreme heat are also affecting other crops.
“We’ve got close to 14,000 acres planted in cotton in Milam County,” Gersbach said. “Some of the corn growers have gone back to cotton.”
“I’ve seen a lot of the cotton and none of it really looks good,” he said.
Cattle prices have remained good, even as stock tanks have dried up, tempting some raisers to sell off their herds.
“There are some people thinking about doing that who have taken literally all their lives to get their herds to this point,” Gersbach said.
9.95 INCHES—The root of the problem is simple. To date, just 9.95 inches of precipitation have fallen in the U. S Weather Service rain gauge at KRXT-FM. A third of that, 3.7 inches, fell in January.
Last year, a drastically subnormal year for precipitation, 15.15 inches had fallen through July 31.
In four of the seven months of 2011, less than an inch of rain was recorded in Rockdale.
RECORD BREAKING—And the high temperatures have made conditions worse.
Through Tuesday, there have been 58 highs of 100 or greater recorded in Rockdale.
The all-time record is 62 in 2009. That could fall as soon as Sunday.
WORST EVER—On Thursday the 2011 drouth was officially proclaimed the worst one-year drouth in Texas history, according to John Nielsen- Gammon, state climatologist and professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M.
Nielsen- Gammon said in the 12-month period ending July 31, the average rainfall total statewide was 15.16 inches, breaking the old record of 16.46 inches, set in 1925.
“Never before has so little rain been recorded prior to and during the primary growing season for crops, plants and warm-season grasses,” he said.
While it’s technically drier than 1956, the worst year of the devastating drouth of the 1950s, Nielsen- Gammon pointed out that drouth lasted through parts of eight years, 1950-57.
“But in 1956, most of the rain fell in the spring when crops were being established,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “The current 12-month drouth (2010-2011) is dominated by rain that fell early last fall and had already died out in many parts of the state by planting time.”
HOPE?—Nielsen- Gammon acknowledges some computer models predict a return to “La Niña” conditions (continued dry) this winter, but said most do not.
“ Most predict neutral conditions in the tropical Pacific and possible return of normal weather patterns,” he said.
“Late August and early September bring increased chances of widespread rain from tropical disturbances, as well as the occasional cold front,” Nielsen- Gammon said.
Gersbach adopts the age-old bittersweet optimism of many farmers.
“I just keep telling everyone that with each passing day we’re one day closer to rain,” he said.