Writer: Norman Martin
LAS CRUCES - Rain and cool temperatures that have delayed crop harvests across the state may keep some producers out of the field for another week, a New Mexico State University expert said. Crops hit hardest include cotton, pecans, chile and grain sorghum, along with some wheat.
Denise McWilliams, an agronomist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service, said she is concerned about lower quality and delayed harvests. "In cotton we're more than 25 percent off our normal harvest schedule," she said. "Delayed harvest means additional weathering, which affects quality."
According to the New Mexico Agricultural Statistics Service, two-thirds of its 31 stations are reporting above-normal rainfall for the year, with significant increases in eastern New Mexico counties. Among the leaders is Tatum, which rose from its normal 15.5 inches to 32.3 inches through mid-November.
Statewide, Farmington and the state's central counties around Socorro are close to their normal harvest schedules, while eastern New Mexico and the southern Mesilla Valley are well off the pace, McWilliams said.
Another factor pushing back harvest dates has been relatively cool fall temperatures, she said. A lower number of productive growing days has slowed crops from reaching normal maturity.
"It's been an unusual year," said Rex Kirksey, superintendent of NMSU's agricultural science centers at Tucumcari and Clovis. "We've had over 30 inches of rain at Clovis this year. That's the wettest year since we started keeping records in 1950." Normal rainfall for this time of year is about 17 inches.
Eastern New Mexico was experiencing a typical year until June when steady rains rolled through the flat plains country, he said. When soaking rains arrived in October and November, it was both good and bad for local producers.
"It's been too wet for cotton harvesters to get into the field, and some of the wheat that is normally planted in October is still not in," Kirksey said. "On the other hand, growers have high expectations for next season because we have so much soil moisture at this time."
Grain sorghum harvests appear most affected by rainfall in Curry and adjacent counties, said Mark Marsalis, an NMSU agronomy specialist. "Although most of the sorghum throughout the state is mature and ready to harvest, less than 40 percent has been harvested because of wet conditions," he said. "Getting grain moisture levels down to levels acceptable for marketing is proving to be difficult with these wet, overcast days."
New Mexico's wet autumn is a welcome relief from the state's lingering drought, but that doesn't mean the dry times have passed. Snowpack in the mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, crucial for state water supplies, remains below average for 2004, said Kelly Redmond, a climatologist at the Western Regional Climate Center.
Even though 2004 has been the 18th wettest year in New Mexico since 1895, Elephant Butte and other reservoirs are still shrinking and aquifers haven't recovered. It will take another four to five years of above-average snowpack to replenish the state's depleted reservoirs, state engineer John D'Antonio said.
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