For North Texas farmers, it really is too wet to plow

Jay Davis is dealing with road damage and fences that have washed away, effecting his cattle operation on his ranch in Grandview.
Jay Davis is dealing with road damage and fences that have washed away, effecting his cattle operation on his ranch in Grandview. Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Jay Davis is perhaps luckier than some of his neighbors, whose cattle were washed away during one of the many torrential storms this spring that brought tornadoes, hail and flooding to North Texas.

Davis, who operates a large farm and ranch in Grandview south of Fort Worth, has had less severe damage. None of his cattle was carried downstream. But several of his fields aren’t doing well.

Many of his corn stalks were broken off by golf ball-size hail that fell about two weeks ago. His wheat also sustained hail damage back then, and even the plants that were spared are beginning to show signs of exposure to too much moisture, which hurts their value.

Across Texas, farmers and ranchers are feeling caught between a devil and a deep blue sea. They are mostly thankful that a five-year drought is releasing its grip on much of the state, but also facing the loss of crops and the inability to rebuild their inventory of livestock because of the intense, ongoing rains.

“The wheat, some of the fields up to 60 percent was lost in the hail,” said Davis, whose family runs Davis Farms in Grandview. “The corn has a lot of time to recover, but the cotton is very sensitive to too much moisture. And we’re concerned about the wheat. It (the weather) just keeps the seed moist. Once those seeds start sprouting, the wheat essentially is not suitable for human consumption.”

Rain has been steady across the state this spring, and North Texas has been hit especially hard.

Some of Johnson County received between 4 and 5 inches this past weekend Sunday and 20.97 inches have fallen at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport this year, which is more than 6.90 inches above normal and just one inch behind all of last year’s total.

And no part of Texas is in exceptional drought, the most severe category, for the first time since 2012, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

But welcome as all that rain may be, there are many problems associated with it. Many areas including Denton, Johnson, Parker and Wise counties have experienced flooding of area roads and green spaces.

Areas of North Texas, including in Wise, Denton and Dallas counties, remains in a flood warning.

The excessive rain amounts are beginning to damage wheat and corn grown by farmer Jay Davis in Granview. Star-Telegram video by Paul Moseley

Bringing out the hogs

Flooding has forced feral hogs out of low-lying areas and into pastures and farm fields, Texas A&M agricultural extension agents reported. The hogs are a constant nemesis to the farming and ranching industry, causing more than $50 million in damage a year, according to state figures.

Also, in many areas, fungi are a problem in pastures because of the intense moisture.

In Tarrant and Denton counties, many growers are applying fungicides to combat leaf and stripe rust after heavy spring rains, Texas A&M officials reported.

And the storms have muddied up fields that are too wet to plow. Only 30 percent of total acreage set aside for corn has been planted and most sorghum acreage also has not been planted, A&M officials said.

“If they waited until it was dry to plant, some are just going to have to leave it fallow and wait until next year,” said Texas Farm Bureau spokesman Mike Barnett.

In Johnson County and points to the south of Fort Worth, Texas A&M officials say soil is in good condition and reservoirs are full. But sorghum planting is behind schedule. Also, hay harvesting is being delayed until the ground dries.

In Parker and Wise counties and other places to the west, heavy rains have stalled essentially all field work. Damage to wheat, sorghum and corn is still being assessed.

Peach farms, ranches benefiting

But on a positive note, livestock are in good to excellent condition, and producers are rebuilding herds, Texas A&M officials said.

Also, peach orchards were mostly undamaged by the storms.

For ranchers, the news isn’t all bad either. Many ranchers are thrilled that green grass is again growing on many remote, rural pastures that have been bone dry — some since 2011.

“It’s good. It’s growing a lot of grass. It’s running a lot of water, which we need,” said Pete Bonds, whose Bonds Ranch business based in Saginaw operates a cattle-ranching operation that stretches across much of Texas.

Many ranchers sold their cattle at a loss in recent years because they couldn’t feed them. If the rains continue, many of those ranchers likely will increase their livestock inventory — but the process likely will take years. Ranchers want to make sure the recent rains are part of a longer-term wet trend, and not just a blip on the drought radar, Bonds said.

“What makes me nervous is, are we out of a drought or is this just a wet spell in an otherwise-drought?” said Bonds, who also is president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers. “The costs of these cows are extremely high. I don’t want to give $3,000 for a cow and that drought hits again and I have to salvage her for $1,200 to $1,500.”

Historically high beef prices may also prevent ranchers from quickly expanding their livestock, Barnett said.

“A lot of ranchers had to sell off their cattle because they didn’t have the pastures to feed them,” Barnett said. “Now they’re trying to restock, but cattle prices are higher than they’ve ever been. You’re trying to rebuild, but it’s going to take a year or two to get it done.”

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

Extended forecast

Wednesday: 50 percent chance of thunderstorms

Thursday: 40 percent chance of thunderstorms

Friday: 50 percent chance of thunderstorms

Flood warning

A flood warning continues for the following areas in the DFW area:

Wise County - West Fork Trinity River near Boyd. River level: 16.56 feet. Flood stage: 16 feet. Forecast: Minor flooding is occurring and river should crest near 17 feet after midnight Wednesday. Some rural roads and farm land will be affected.

Denton County - Denton Creek near Justin. River level: 9.64 feet. Flood stage: 10 feet. River expected to crest near 12 feet after midnight Wednesday and fall below flood stage by Thursday morning.

Dallas County - Elm Fork Trinity River near Carrollton. River level: 6.30 feet. Flood stage: 8 feet. Forecast: River expected to crest Wednesday evening and minor flooding will occur.

Dallas County - Trinity River in Dallas. River level: 34.37 feet. Flood stage 30 feet. Minor flooding is occurring and expected to continue. River should fall near 32 feet by Wednesday morning.

Sources: National Weather Service

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