Drought continues to tighten its grip across the Plains, and it’s forcing farmers in west Texas to make some very difficult decisions this growing season. Depleted soils, along with bleak forecasts showing little chances for rain anytime soon, is a tough reality for farmers who struggled through a drought ravaged crop season in 2022.
It’s hard to forget the scenes from February. A dust storm tore through the southern plains, unlike anything most area farmers had ever seen.
“We had 90 mile an hour winds here,” says Brad Heffington, a farmer in Littlefield, Texas. “I had six center pivots that went down and it tore stuff up all around the farms. And it just turned sand loose that we hadn’t had before.”
“I’ve been here my entire life and that was one of the worst ones I’ve seen,” says Travis Mires, who farms in O’Donnell, Texas.
The winds kicked up an eerie red cloud of dirt. It also created static electricity that added insult to injury for farmers who were already staring at a bleak winter wheat crop.
The high winds, combined with deep drought, is causing dirt and sand to blow from fields onto roads and highways, even causing some roads to be shut down from so much dirt piled up on the roads. Road crews have been trying to keep roads clear, but it’s been a challenge. Even dryland fields that were planted in cover crops have dried up in some cases, and it’s causing even more dirt and sand to blow.
“We’re fortunate a lot of the ground was covered with wheat for cover crop and grazing, but the chances of a dryland harvest crop on wheat are fading by the day,” says Martin Stoerner, a farmer in Lockney, Texas.
Farmers saw another round of severe winds this week, with brown skies serving as a reminder that the drought is still planted in an area that should be seeing planters rolling for corn or sorghum soon.
From fried fields of rye to roads drifted over with sand and dirt, the scenes are constant reminders of just how brutal the weather can be. And farmers in the area say they try to keep the ground covered with some type of crop during the winter, but with little to no rain this winter, dryland cover crops couldn’t survive.
“Some of my neighbors had cleaned, tilled fields, which drifted over around us, causing us some problems,” says Mires. “It’s not their fault. There’s just not much you can do this at this point.”
Mires’ farm is 45 miles south of Lubbock. He says they’ve seen less than a half inch of rain all winter long, and last year, was a similar story. The ground was already depleted, and with another year of drought, the situation is setting up to be challenging again this year.
“I’ve been farming for 40 something years, and last year was the first year I didn’t have a row of cotton on any of my farms. We didn’t even get our irrigated up,” he says. “Without some help from other nature, with our limited irrigation, we can’t grow a crop.”
With soil moisture profiles already empty, it’s causing more concerns about this year’s crop.
“I’m not trying to be negative but that will probably in worse shape going into this crop than we were last year because we lack even more rain to catch up,” says Heffington. “We’re going to need several rains before we can even plant, because it’s dry 4′ or 5′ deep.”
Farmers in this area of Texas are just a month away from the start of cotton planting. They are wondering if they’ll even be able to grow a crop on their parched dryland acres this year.
“It’s time for us to start strip tilling and making some decisions about planting stuff, and it’s really scary to do anything because if you put a tractor in the field, there’s a good chance of [the soil] turning loose and blowing out at this point,” says Mires.
As farmers across the Plains weigh their options of what to plant, delaying those decisions has become a growing theme.
“I’ve got cottonseed booked, I’ve got corn seed booked and I’ve got grain sorghum seed booked,” says Herffington. “I don’t know what we’re going to plant.”
“This is probably as late in the year as we’ve ever been undecided on planting intentions,” says Stoerner. “With the ratio of corn to grains, there’s still a chance that some could go to grain, but for the most part in this area, it’s cotton country, but that ratio is more favorable to grain right now.”
Credit – Tyne Morgan – AgWeb.com