Planting Time Arrives In Driest Spring Since 2011

Rain or no rain, planting time can't wait much longer.

Seeds are now in the ground in an increasing number of South Plains irrigated acres, but A-J Media has not yet learned of a farmer willing to risk wasted efforts by planting in dryland.

One of those growers is Dan Smith, whose operation near Lockney normally contains about half of each. This year, he's been planting irrigated acres the past week or so, but plans to put off on non-irrigated planting until later in the month.

"Right now, prospects are dismal for the dryland crop on the South Plains, (but) if it starts raining, that could change," he said.

Although rainfall totals vary by county, few areas in the South Plains have received more than an inch and a half so far in 2014.

Lubbock, for instance, has seen a total of .93 of an inch, barely above the .64 as April 30 in 2011, a record-breaking drought year. In comparison, Lubbock received 2.53 inches through that time in 2012, and 1.2 inches in 2013.

"We're in that stage now where we've got to get some rain," said John Villalba, agriculture agent for Swisher County.

Unfortunately, lack of rain is not the only concern for the soil.

Recent heavy winds -- even by West Texas standards -- have removed from the ground moisture it can't afford to lose. Gusts can also damage newly planted seeds.

"Wind can be a deciding factor in the soil," Villalba said. "If you're not getting any moisture, those little particles of dirt flying through the air so fast can really hurt these little seedlings."

The only good-for-planting news so far this spring seems to have been warm temperatures. But this week, those are gone.

Steve Verett, executive vice president of Plains Cotton Growers, said a cold front could delay planting time in some fields.

Most crop insurance policies require seeds be placed in the ground by a certain date, regardless of soil profile. For that reason, within a few weeks most producers will have no choice but to risk planting in extra-dry dryland.

With no significant rain chances in the near future, a triumphant crop seems unlikely, but not impossible.

"The outlook seems pessimistic, but I think farmers are tied to that land and everything that goes with it," Villalba said. "They're going to put a crop in the ground and make their best effort."

Smith, the Lockney farmer, said he and fellow growers have no plans to give up yet.

"We all need to pray for rain," he said.