Drought intensified in the West, parts of the southern Great Plains, and South Florida in November, but eased over the eastern U.S., parts of Texas and sections of the Southwest.
The NDMC added 64 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter in November, with 21 of those for Texas, seven for Georgia, and four each for Kentucky, Virginia and South Carolina. Those states experienced lingering drought effects from the summer, as well as ongoing issues. Texas also had a number of burn bans in effect, as dry conditions contributed to heightened fire risk.
Texas issues drought declarations; agricultural problems continue
Drought improved in Texas, but persisted in some areas, where lingering agricultural and fire impacts from the summer continued. On Nov. 8, Gov. Abbott declared that exceptional drought conditions posed a threat of imminent disaster in 53 counties, due to ongoing drought and increased fire danger, and authorized the use of available resources of state government and political subdivisions to deal with the disaster.
Farmers and livestock producers continued to cope with lingering drought concerns. In many areas, pastures and rangeland were in poor condition, leading to ongoing feeding of supplemental hay or protein, per Texas A&M AgriLife. Crop planting was delayed for lack of moisture in some areas, while some farmers opted to plant in dry soil with the hope of rain to allow the crop to germinate, according to a Nov. 20 report from Texas A&M AgriLife.
Georgia drought easing
Rainfall ameliorated drought across much of Georgia in November, but pockets remained in the northeast and south. The peanut, soybean and cotton crops did not benefit from the rain at the end of their growing season, but pastures benefitted, as did wheat, oats and barley that were being planted, as noted in Saporta Report. Livestock producers continued to offer supplemental feed with the expectation of depleting their winter hay supplies earlier than normal.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that water levels in streams and lakes were still low, including Lake Lanier, which was about 3 feet below normal.
Kentucky drought declarations end
Kentucky’s statewide drought declarations for all 120 counties ended in November, after being issued on Oct. 3 in the wake of record heat and unprecedented dryness in September. Despite the rain, hay supplies were expected to be short for the winter, as feeding began early after drought dried up pastures and limited hay growth, as noted in a blog of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.
With the harvest ahead of schedule, soybean yields were generally higher than in the past few years, with quality better than expected, a positive finding after the droughty summer, reported WKMS in Murray, Kentucky.
Virginia counting drought effects on agriculture
Autumn rain helped Virginia’s crops, increasing yields after a hot, dry summer. As of Nov. 3, pastures remained in less than desirable condition, with 35 percent fair, 40 percent poor, and 14 percent very poor according to a USDA NASS report, as listed in Lancaster Farming of Ephrata, Pennsylvania. State soybean production was estimated at 21.3 million bushels, down 14 percent compared to 2018. Corn and corn silage crops showed little to no negative effects from drought.
Despite the badly needed rain, some areas suffered considerable losses when harvest was done. A Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Powhatan County in the central eastern part of the state determined that crop losses were at least 50 percent or more, as reported in Richmond.com. Drought hurt the more than 19,000 acres of crops in the county, causing an estimated loss of more than $1 million. Soybean yields were more adversely affected than corn. Hay production was down drastically, after poor hay production in 2018. Farmers began feeding livestock hay about three months early in August and may not have enough for winter.
South Carolina crop yields down
End of the season crop reports for a couple of South Carolina counties underscored how drought stressed the crops. In Calhoun County, crop yields were reduced, according to The Orangeburg Times and Democrat. In cornfields with sandy soil, the yield was zero. On heavier soils, yields were low, but not entirely decimated. Yields were also reduced for cotton and peanuts, where dryland yields were 3,000 to 3,500 pounds per acre, compared to 4,000 pounds in better years. The soil was so hard that irrigation was needed to harvest peanuts.
Drought and heat also diminished dryland crop yields across Orangeburg County during the 2019 growing season, per The Orangeburg Times and Democrat. Some corn was planted late after a cool, wet spring, and then the weather turned hot and dry, affecting crops, grazing and hay production. Dryland corn yields averaged about 55 bushels per acre statewide, about half of normal yield. Late-planted corn did better than early-planted corn.
Christmas tree growth slowed by drought
Across the Southeast, a number of tree farms reported drought damage or seedling deaths stemming from drought. In North Carolina, many seedlings succumbed to the hot, dry summer, as reported by CBS17 in Raleigh. In Newton County, Georgia, seedlings grew little, per WSB-TV ABC 2 Atlanta. Similarly in northeast Alabama, trees in Jackson County did not grow the typical one to two feet over the summer, according to WAAY-TV ABC 31 Huntsville. In Kentucky, 300 seedlings, half of that planted on one farm, died over the summer in Bullitt County, as reported by the Louisville Courier-Journal.
One central Kentucky tree farm was particularly hard-hit. A Christmas tree farm in Richmond in Madison County had to close for the 2019 Christmas season after the weather took a harsh toll on the trees, per the Lexington Herald-Leader. Newly planted trees worth $2,000 turned brown from summer heat, and even mature trees turned brown and dropped needles. The farm did not have irrigation capability.
Other area tree farms may see the lingering effects of the 2019 drought in subsequent years.
Winter wheat affected in Kansas, Oklahoma
The cold, dry weather in central Kansas left many wheat plants underdeveloped and at risk for more winterkill and injury as colder weather neared, as reported in DTN – The Progressive Farmer. Conditions were similar in the Oklahoma Panhandle where little moisture had fallen since mid-July. Wheat planted in mid-September had emerged, but later planted wheat had not yet sprouted and needed rain.
No grazing of green wheat was available in the Oklahoma Panhandle, leaving one livestock producer to put his weaned calves on milo stalks, hoping that would sustain them into the new year. So many weaned calves were sold at auction during the fall that prices were too low to sell.
For more details, please see the Drought Impact Reporter.