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County Agent: Drought may persist through early next year

Aug. 16, 2011 at 3:16 a.m.


By Joe Janak

As the drought persists, it conjures up numerous thoughts. How long will it last? What can I do with my cattle? What about my trees? Will my lawn die? Should I put in an irrigation system? Will my water well run dry? Will we be allowed to water? There are many questions that need to be addressed at this time, and the answers may not be easy to decipher.

La Nina, which is one of the causes of the drought, was over in June. But recently, meteorologists have stated that it is restarting, and the drought will likely persist through early next year.

Two weeks ago, we attended the Beef Cattle Shortcourse in College Station. One of the keynote speakers there was Evelyn Browning Gariss, climatologist from New Mexico. Browning Gariss has written The Browning Newsletter for more than 35 years and is quoted as being the most accurate source for long-term climate forecasts. She did not have good news for us in Texas, especially the farmers and ranchers. Realize that this is a forecast and hopefully it is has errors, but she is forecasting that we are just starting the drought cycle, and it should last another 15 to 20 years. "Wow!" and a few other words, the 1,500 ranchers attending exclaimed. Additionally, she said, the winters will be colder than normal. She forecasts dry weather more frequently in the southwestern United States from California to Texas and wetter in the Midwest.

If this forecast holds true, we'll need to re-evaluate nearly every practice we do today, from watering our lawn, to planting different crops including forage/grazing grasses, to changing our management of everything, as water is the essential part of life. We will have to adapt as Browning Gariss stated.

To bring this information to you directly to analyze and use, we've booked Browning Gariss as one of our featured speakers for the South Texas Farm and Ranch Show to be held in Victoria Oct. 26-27. Her presentation should be eye opening, to say the least. Mark the dates on your calendar, and plan on attending this year's show. More on other speakers in later articles.

HURRICANES PROVIDE THREAT AND RELIEF

One of the most devastating events is a hurricane with its treacherous winds, rain, flooding and potential death of human and animal lives. Sept. 11 marks the 50th anniversary of Hurricane Carla, the worst hurricane to hit our area in 100 years. I lived through it, as did many of you, and it was very destructive. Yet it may be one of our ways to get sufficient moisture to survive, agronomically speaking.

Browning Gariss noted that hurricanes will be one source of moisture for us during her forecasted drought. Many of us were wishing for the past tropical storm which edged the valley and went into Mexico to go more northward and bring us some rain.

Still, we must be prepared for this potential catastrophe. How unique is Texas weather that we can be talking of protecting ourselves from a hurricane disaster and at the same time, trying to salvage what we can due to the extensive drought? Without much ado, the best is to be prepared for it all, and the best site I can recommend to anyone is the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) website, texashelp.tamu.edu. There you can obtain help on either a potential hurricane or the current drought. It has numerous resources that address disaster issues such as wildfires, drought, hurricanes, livestock losses, watering lawns, etc. Texas EDEN is an educational network dedicated to informing people about disaster mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

CHECK YOUR PASTURES FOR TOXIC WEEDS

Speaking of livestock losses, I urge ranchers to be aware of what their cattle are eating. Remember the cattle losses reported last year during the drought? I've recently seen coffee senna, the major weed that was responsible for losses last year, growing from 3- to 18-inches tall in pastures. How it can find moisture to germinate I don't know, but do check your pastures for toxic weeds now with the drought limiting grazing forage. Either pull them up and destroy them, or spray them with a herbicide and remove them.

The Texas AgriLife Extension produced book, "Toxic Plants of Texas, describes with pictures," 106 of the most common toxic plants in Texas. It includes explanations of what makes the plant toxic, how much an animal must consume, a list of animal poisoning signs, strategies for treating animals and preventing poisonings and for controlling the plants, along with color photographs of plants, flowers and seed of the toxic plant.

For an online resource, see the website essmextension.tamu.edu/plants/toxics/ or purchase "Toxic Plants of Texas" $25 from agrilifebookstore.org/.

PECAN SHUCKWORM TIME

If you have a crop of pecans this year, you want to protect them from the Hickory Shuckworm. This pest tunnels in the shuck now, when the nuts are in the half-shell hardening stage. This is when an insecticide application will control the worm. If the shuckworm was a major pest for you last year, spraying may be a recommended practice.

Joe Janak is a Victoria County extension agent.

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