Texas Floods Damage Crops, Forages

Some Rebound Could Occur, Depending on Upcoming Weather

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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This picture of a flooded sorghum field in Texas is from 2015. Water problems continued again this spring in some areas of the state. (DTN file photo by Emily Unglesbee)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Corrie Bowen has seen massive extremes in the weather over the last six years. The Texas AgriLife Extension agent for Wharton County has seen both drought and floods damage crops in recent years.

"It was so dry in 2011 we barely had water running in our rivers," Bowen told DTN. "The years 2012 through 2014 were good years, but then both last spring and this year we have seen so much rain."

Bowen said the flooding this spring actually began in mid-April with heavy rains in his area of southeastern Texas, southwest of Houston. Rivers in Wharton County rose and spilled into area fields, destroying crops. Then heavy rains fell on May 25 and then again during the Memorial Day weekend.

Areas of central and southeastern Texas were hit by large amounts of precipitation during May, said DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson. Rainfall totals in these regions ranged from 6 to 20 inches.

"Southeast Texas had the worst of it with 10 to 20 inches," Anderson said.

Some May rainfall totals include College Station with 12.93 inches, Huntsville 9.9 inches and Houston 7.59. Brenham had 22.52 inches in the month, including 16.62 inches in just one day on May 26, he said.

FARMERS REPLANT CROPS

While the rains have eased up in the first of half June, the heavy rainfall and the resulting flooding have damaged and destroyed crops and also forced livestock from grazing lands.

Bowen said it is still too early to know a certain number of crop acres damaged or destroyed by the flooding. The Texas state office of Farm Service Administration is still in the process of figuring how many acres of crops have been affected by the heavy rains, he said.

Locally, Bowen said there are farmers in his county, especially in the northern part of the county, who lost corn acres in the mid-April floods after 6 to 7 inches of water sat on their fields. They went back and replanted these fields to cotton or grain sorghum only to see these crops washed away with the heavy rains in late May, he said.

"They could plant soybeans but I don't know how many are going to be willing to plant for a third time," he said.

The flooding has been so bad in Wharton County that even a crop like rice, which is flooded as a normal practice, suffered. Bowen estimated the county has about 36,000 acres of rice production this year.

Andrew Miller, a farmer and custom operator from Odem, Texas, calls the Texas Coastal Bend's climate a feast and famine region for rainfall most years. Fortunately, farmland near Corpus Christi hasn't experienced the flash floods of Houston and the western half of his home county, San Patricio County, was spared the worst deluges. Miller is hoping to escape much yield damage.

"We've had nothing completely under water, although we did have some six-inch standing water at times," he said. Even in the eastern half of his county, water-stressed crops like cotton have a chance of bouncing back, depending on water conditions the next two months.

"It's hard to see any crop insurance claims unless it keeps raining," he said.

In fact, his milo harvest begins this week and the western half of his county appears to be producing "beautiful" crops of grain sorghum, cotton and corn, Miller added.

FORAGE DAMAGE VARIABLE

Vanessa Corriher-Olson, Texas A&M University Extension forage specialist based at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton, said areas that have been most affected by heavy rainfall have been areas closer to rivers such as the Sabine, Trinity, Brazos, etc. She was not aware of an exact number of acres affected this season.

Flood damage to forages can be quite variable depending on several factors. Damage is less on dormant forage than on growing forage and is also lower during cool air and water temperatures than during warm temperatures, she said.

"Some references indicate survival of some grasses after 60 days of submersion when water temperatures are 50 degrees F or less, but others can be killed within 24 hours when water temperatures are 86 degrees F or higher," Corriher-Olson said.

Corriher-Olson said damage is less severe to forages in areas of moving water compared to standing, stagnant water.

Sedimentation on leaves and crowns in standing water increases injury. Damage from flooding is also reduced if the forage is not completely covered by water; grasses with leaves extending above the water surface survive longer than those fully submerged, she said.

As one might expect, damage to forages grows with increasing time of submersion. Bermudagrass has been reported to survive after submersion of 55 days and tall fescue survived after flooding of 35 days. Bahiagrass survived in a greenhouse trial after 84 days of submersion. Other forage with good potential to survive flooding are switchgrass, eastern gamagrass, and dallisgrass.

Corriher-Olson said forages with generally low survival from flood damage are annual ryegrass and most forage legumes.

WHEAT HARVEST DELAYED

While some crops were destroyed or damaged by flooding, winter wheat escaped with minimal damage. However, winter wheat, is not grown that widely in the southeastern part of Texas.

Katie Allen, director of communications and producer relations with the Texas Wheat Producers Board and Association, said the biggest drawback from the recent month of rains and flooding for wheat producers has been a delay in harvest. The Texas Crop Progress and Condition report out on Monday June 13 reported winter wheat was 35% harvested compared to a five-year average of 43% harvested.

"With each new rain on the mature crop, quality becomes more of a concern," Allen said. "We are already seeing lowered protein levels across the state due to the rain and have started to get reports of sprout damage."

In addition, there could some additional damage and dockage to wheat fields that have been physiologically mature for several weeks, Allen said. This includes the central Texas area heading west to the Concho Valley area.

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Editor's note: DTN Executive Editor Marcia Zarley Taylor contributed to this article.

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

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(CZ/BAS)

Russ Quinn