Farmers playing waiting games

There's a good chance fewer acres of crops will be planted in eastern New Mexico and West Texas, according to agriculture officials.

Alisa Boswell: Portales News-Tribune

Roosevelt County wheat farmer Rick Ledbetter checks the sprinklers Monday on his irrigated winter wheat crop. Ledbetter said spring wheat will be his main crop when planting for the upcoming season, because it is a money-maker due to it being one of the few sources of cattle feed.

Parmer County Agriculture Agent Benji Henderson said farmers will likely be planting a lot less corn this spring.

"With our water situation the way it is with the drought, we're trying to find a substitute for corn silage," Henderson said. "We're planting a lot of sorghum silage instead of corn silage. And I think we'll still see a lot of cotton planted."

Henderson said cotton is much more tolerant of the drought, because it can tolerate less water whereas corn cannot.

He said green beans and black-eyed peas are the main vegetable crops in Parmer County.

"We gotta have some help to make them (vegetable crops) work. It takes a lot more emphasis and a lot more water to grow a vegetable crop," Henderson said. "There will be some planted but who knows. We learned last year we don't have enough water to go with 100 percent irrigation. We need some help from Mother Nature."

Henderson said green bean and black-eyed pea crops should still be able to fair this season.

Eastern New Mexico received a little more than 10 inches of precipitation in 2011, according to Accuweather.com, which is way below the historical average of with 19.11 The dry weather has continued in 2012 with .25 inches of moisture through March, with the normal amount being 1.88 inches

Across the border in New Mexico, farmers are taking a wait-and-see approach.

"Just my gut feeling, the next two months will impact a lot of what people decide to do," said Roosevelt County Agriculture Agent Patrick Kircher. "If we get some moisture, it may make folks feel more positive about their crops."

Kircher said he does not know what local dryland farmers plan to do but he thinks most will exercise minimum tillage, which means disturbing top soil as little as possible to conserve moisture in the soil.

Roosevelt County farmer Rick Ledbetter said he will not only till his crops as little as possible for the summer but he will also not be double cropping most of his crops, which means when his winter wheat is pulled, no other crops will be planted in its place.

Ledbetter said he usually double crops all of his crops.

"We're just backing down a bit and I'm guessing most everybody's doing the same thing," Ledbetter said. "We're anticipating less. At this point, I don't plan to plant as much corn as I normally do. I'm not anticipating planting as much cotton because the market's backed off quite a bit."

Ledbetter said a majority of his summer crops will be wheat, because it is the crop currently bringing in money, along with silage, because both are the main sources for cattle feed.

"The only reason I'll have good crops this year is because my crops are irrigated," Ledbetter said. "If rain doesn't come soon, these dry land crops are never gonna make it."

Ledbetter said he will also be planting green chile and carrots for color extraction.

Curry County farmer Frank Blackburn said the normal raining season for the local area is approaching so he has hopes of crop conditions improving.

"Some of mine are irrigated so we'll be able to plant that but the dryland, we'll have to wait for the wheat in the fall (first of September)," Blackburn said if not enough rain falls. "The normal planting time for milo and sorghum silage is the last two weeks of May or June, so it's too early to say if it's going to rain or not. If it does rain, I'll plant the normal amount."

Blackburn said if rain does not come or not enough comes, he will be planting less crops than normal.

Blackburn and Ledbetter said when and how the rain comes will be the deciding factor in how many and what kind of crops are planted.

According to Albuquerque National Weather Service officials, the next two months is predicted to bring a 40 percent chance of above normal temperatures.

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