Real estate evaluation with respect to potential buyer's requirements. Cattle management strategies that aim at rangeland and economic sustainability. Wildlife population inventory using appropriate and reliable survey methods. Wildlife management plans customized for your unique situation. Strategies to achieve the atmosphere and service you want to provide. Quail populations stand to benefit from sound rangeland management that we provide. Land management strategies and solutions that favor rangeland health also benefit non-game wildlife species.


Beef influence on dairy cattle could improve marketing options, bottom line

Writer: Kay Ledbetter, 806-677-5608,
Contact: Dr. Ted McCollum, 806-677-5600,

AMARILLO – Dairy owners might be able to add more to their bottom line if they introduce a beef bull into their breeding program for some of the producing cows in their herd, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialist said.

A beef influence in the breeding program of dairy operations for some of their cows can increase the marketability of their calves, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

But just any bull from the sale barn won’t work, said Dr. Ted McCollum, AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist in Amarillo, who spoke at the High Plains Dairy Conference recently in Amarillo.

“At today’s costs, dairy calves generally look at a $70 hickey because of inefficiency in the feedyard, and there are other value concerns relative to a beef calf,” McCollum said. “These costs and value concerns have to work back through the system to the dairy calf value.”

McCollum said a beef-on-dairy breeding program can add value to the calves from the dairy system grown for beef by improving growth and performance and overall carcass value. It also may reduce costs associated with losses from calving difficulty and stillbirths.

Some issues for dairy cattle in the beef market include lower gain, inferior feed efficiency, final weight/carcass weight that can be too light or heavy, lower red meat yield and dairy conformation discounts, he said.

With straight-bred Jersey-type cattle, one problem is light carcasses, McCollum said. Carcasses need to be over 625 pounds to avoid discounts. Some Holstein cattle, on the other hand, can be too large framed.

Limflex beef bulls were crossed with Jersey cows to increase the marketability of the traditional dairy calf. (Courtesy photo)

“Both can be issues at the packer,” he said.

Fed beef cattle will have higher carcass yield and red meat yield relative to dairy type cattle fed for the beef market, McCollum said. At similar live weights, dairy-type cattle yield lighter carcasses and the carcasses may yield less retail beef cuts than a beef animal.

“Beef cattle dress out at about 64 percent and dairy, at 61 or 62 percent or less,” he said. “You’re losing carcass weight. And again, these are factors that influence the value of dairy calves relative to beef calves.”

Another issue with dairy cattle going into the beef market is their conformation – what the carcass musculature looks like, McCollum said.

“They are simply light muscled and their ribeye is a different shape,” he said. “If you sell cattle on the grid, there is a discount on dairy conformation that has nothing to do with yield or quality grade.”

An Angus-Holstein cross will yield more beef than a straight Holstein calf raised for the beef market. (Courtesy photo)

Those are some issues that can be addressed and improved if a dairy owner will consider using a beef bull on a portion of their dairy cows, McCollum said.

“So what kind of bulls do you look for? Because of the combination of characteristics needed in a bull, you are not going to find the bull you need at the sale barn,” he said. “Select bulls to complement characters of the dairy breed. Find bulls of known genetic potential for birth weight, growth, muscling, carcass grade and weight, or work with an AI company with programs that offer beef sires targeted for use on dairy cows.”

Traits to look for are feeding performance – gain and efficiency, final weight, carcass weight, muscling, conformation and red meat yield, McCollum said. When considering sire selection for Jersey and Jersey-influenced cows, additional traits to consider are lower birth weight and accelerated growth. Sires to use on Holstein cows will vary from the desirable sires to use with Jersey and Jersey-type cows.

McCollum also addressed some questions about the use of sexed semen to produce bulls rather than heifers and market weight and timing for steers and heifers aimed at the feeder cattle market.

He said male calves always sell for more than females in the beef market. The producer will need to compare the dollar difference for a steer and heifer and then make their determination on whether that difference is enough to offset the cost of using sexed semen.

“Currently on the light calf market, 400-500 pounds, there is a $10-20 per hundredweight differential, so $40-100 per head,” McCollum said. “So you have to determine if this justifies the added expense of sexed semen.”

As to the marketing, he said at the weights dairy calves typically leave calf ranches, there should be no concern about weight presented on the calf market. If the calves are held to heavier weights with intentions to market as feeder cattle, then heifers need to move at about 650-700 pounds and steers at 750-850 pounds.



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New AgriLife Extension range website, “How Grasses Grow,” now available


Writer: Steve Byrns, 325-653-4576,

Contact: Dr. Morgan Russell, 325-653-4576,

SAN ANGELO – “How Grasses Grow,” a new website resource for ranchers, land managers and landowners, is now available through the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

The multi-faceted site,, was developed by Dr. Morgan Russell, AgriLife Extension range specialist at San Angelo. It features information on vegetative reproduction of perennial grasses, a brief description of West-Central Texas dominant grass bud banks, fire effects on representative warm and cool season grasses, and published journal articles on bud banks.

“This website is meant to help the viewer gain a deeper understanding of how grasses grow, and the many differences existing among native and non-native, perennial grass species,” Russell said.

Yellow Indiangrass on rangeland near Kerrville following a winter prescribed burn. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Dr. Morgan Russell)

The site serves as a database for species-specific information on some of the dominant grass species in Texas.

“These grasses are the lifeblood of our rangelands,” Russell said. “Our livestock and wildlife, ecosystem processes and overall plant community function depend on these plants for many reasons. Learning about how grasses establish, reproduce and sustain their species populations are key for any range manager. So my continuing goal with this project is to grow the website with more grass species information  and make this unique information more readily available with a click or two of the mouse.”

For more information, contact Russell at 325-653-4576, or visit her new website.


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Texas Well Owner Network honored with prestigious state environmental award

Program earns 2018 Texas Environmental Excellence award in education.

Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752,
Contact: Dr. Diane Boellstorff, 979-458-3562,
Dr. Drew Gholson, 979-845-1461,
John W. Smith, 979-845-2761,

COLLEGE STATION – The Texas Well Owner Network has earned a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality 2018 Texas Environmental Excellence award in the category of education.

The Texas Well Owner Network has earned a 2018 Texas Environmental Excellence award in the education category from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. (Texas Well Owner Network photo)

The Texas Well Owner Network, developed by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Texas A&M University’s Texas Water Resources Institute, helps private well owners learn to protect water resources and properly maintain wells to ensure safe water supplies.

According to the TCEQ, the Texas Environmental Excellence Award is the state’s highest environmental honor and acknowledges achievements in environmental preservation and protection in diverse categories. Award winners will be celebrated at the commission’s Environmental Trade Fair and Conference May 15-16 at the Austin Convention Center.

“The network was designed to deliver a science-based, community-responsive education curriculum for Texas residents who depend on household wells for their water,” said Dr. Diane Boellstorff, AgriLife Extension water resource specialist in the department of soil and crop sciences, College Station. “It focuses on protecting groundwater quality and aquifer integrity.”

Dr. Drew Gholson, Texas Well Owner Network program coordinator and AgriLife Extension program specialist in soil and crop sciences, College Station, said with more than a million private water wells in the state, education and training are essential for ensuring public health and safety.

“This is especially true since private well owners are responsible for monitoring and maintaining their wells and are at a greater risk for exposure to compromised water quality,” Gholson said.

He said the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board and other partner agencies and organizations collaborate in the network to help provide screenings, trainings and other educational outreach.

“The TWON team is honored to receive this award as we know there are many great environmental educational programs in Texas and that TCEQ looks over the applications very closely,” Boellstorff said. “We are fortunate to have an excellent team that spans the Texas A&M University departments of soil and crop sciences, biological and agricultural engineering, agricultural leadership, education and communications, and the Texas Water Resources Institute.”

Primary funding for the program is provided through a Clean Water Act nonpoint source grant from the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“A main goal of the program is to help private well owners learn about managing their wells and protecting water quality though ‘Well Informed’ screenings, ‘Well Educated’ workshops and other events across the state,” said John Smith, AgriLife Extension program specialist, College Station.

He said these events focus on protecting groundwater and aquifers, well and septic system maintenance and construction, and how to improve water treatment and quality.

“These educational opportunities allow participants a better understanding of the relationship between practices in or near wells and the quality of water available for drinking and irrigation,” Smith noted.

Boellstorff said since TWON’s inception in 2011, more than 7,800 private well owners have benefited from the program’s well screenings and educational events.

“Program participants can bring in water well samples to have them screened for pollutants,” she said. “We can then identify the possible source of contaminants and give recommendations on how to remediate that contamination,” she said. “This also helps the well owner develop best management practices for the site.”

She noted efforts by the network in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey showed environmental leadership by providing a rapid response for water well screenings for Texans in the affected area.

“Texas Well Owner Network has been intensely engaged in responding to the emergency need created by Hurricane Harvey for flooded water well testing,” she said. “Through collaborative efforts with partners, more than 1,500 additional, free water tests were conducted through 61 well testing events in 29 hurricane-impacted counties. We also have communicated private water well best management practice information and shared educational materials, including well disinfection instructions and training, with the goal of reducing instances of well contamination.”

She said these efforts were well-received by those in the affected communities. The network plans to continue providing hurricane-related free water testing, educational information and well disinfection events as needed.

Boellstorff said the program does more than teach private well owners how to be good stewards of the environment by using best management practices to reduce their impact on the state’s water supply and to prevent contamination.

“The program is more than just an environmental education program—it represents the importance of fostering environmental stewardship in a community to protect public health and our natural resources,” she said.


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TRICARE changes to be focus of March 28 webinar

Writer: Kay Ledbetter, 806-677-5608,
Contacts: Andy Crocker, 806-677-5600,
Rachel Brauner, 979-845-1553,

AMARILLO – “TRICARE Reforms in 2018” will be the topic of the Military Families Learning Network, or MFLN, Military Caregiving program’s March 28 webinar.

Mark Ellis, senior health program policy analyst at the TRICARE Policy and Benefits Office of the Defense Health Agency, will discuss significant reforms that have occurred to TRICARE as of Jan. 1.

TRICARE is the Department of Defense health plan for military members and their families, said Rachel Brauner, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service program coordinator with the Texas Military Program in College Station.

Monthly webinars are offered through AgriLife Extension’s Military Program to provide professional development and interactive resources for those unable to leave home for training, said Andrew Crocker, AgriLife Extension program specialist in gerontology and health, Amarillo.

The one-hour webinar will begin at 11 a.m. and is free and open to anyone interested, but registration is required. To join the session or for more information, go to

The webinar will:

– Identify what the Military Health System is and the mission and goals of Defense Health Agency.

– Provide an understanding for the new TRICARE Select health plan.

– Identify TRICARE enrollment reforms.

– Provide an understanding for upcoming TRICARE benefit and coverage reforms.

The MFLN Military Caregiving concentration will provide certificates of completion for participants interested in receiving training hours. It also will offer one continuing education credit from the University of Texas School of Social Work.


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Episode #30 – Jim Bradbury (CERCLA Air Emissions Reporting & Agriculture)

He's back!  This is Jim's third appearance on the Podcast, and today he is here to talk about a really important issue that makes reporting air emissions from animal waste be on the horizon for many agricultural producers.  Under the federal environmental law CERCLA, anyone emitting certain amounts of hazardous materials into the air must file reports with the National Response Center.  In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency passed an exemption from this reporting requirement for most agricultural producers. In 2017, however, a federal court found that exemption to be illegal in a case called Waterkeeper Alliance v. Environmental Protection Agency

In light of this, beginning May 1, 2018 (subject to further stay by the court or EPA), producers whose operations emit more than 100 pounds of ammonia or hydrogen sulfide in a 24 hour period must report these emissions.  As Jim explains, determine how to measure this is complicated and can be confusing, but the reporting process itself can be done online and seems as though it will be fairly painless.

Any livestock, horse, poultry, etc. owners need to be aware of this law and impending deadline and determine if it may apply to his or her specific operation.

Contact info for Jim Bradbury




Links to info mentioned on the show

 - Blog post on Waterkeeper Alliance v. Environmental Protection Agency 

- EPA website for reporting and agriculture

- EPA list of resources for calculating emissions by head


Texas Crop and Weather Report – March 20

Danger of frost has passed for much of the state

OVERTON – Commercial and amateur vegetable growers are actively seeding and transplanting as much of the state appears to be clear of the threat of frost, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Growing and planting seasons differ greatly in Texas where the state’s geography and size lends to a wide range of climates and planting zones. Most of the state, aside from the High Plains and North Texas, is beyond the point for typical last frosts. 

Growers and gardeners in South Texas have been planting warm-season fruits and vegetables for some time, and many are already harvesting summer items like watermelons, said Dr. Joe Masabni, AgriLife Extension vegetable specialist, Overton.

“The danger of frost has passed, so there is a lot of planting activity,” he said. “Right now, we’re between the cool-season and warm-season crops, so you see a lot of growers and gardeners still planting peas, broccoli, cabbage and lettuce, but at the same time they’re transplanting warm-season crops like beans, tomatoes, eggplants, sweet corn and potatoes.”

This map from the Texas Home Vegetable Gardening Guide shows the average date of the last spring frost for areas around the state.

Masabni said experienced gardeners and growers know the springtime routine, but there are also plenty of AgriLife Extension publications and materials available, such as the Texas Home Vegetable Gardening Guide at, which provide planting information regarding plant species, soil preparation and maps with information about first and last average frost dates.

There are a few things gardeners can do to mitigate problems and increase the chances of good production from their home gardens, Masabni said.

Transplants purchased should be treated as though they have insects or disease, he said. They should be sprayed with insecticides and fungicides to sanitize them prior to planting.

“What you don’t see will get you,” he said. “The plants may look perfectly healthy, but don’t assume they are clean. You can treat with organic or traditional sprays. Cover the plants well as a precaution against any initial problems.”

Masabni also recommends transplants receive a one-time application of starter fertilizer, which is heavy in phosphorous, to promote root establishment.

“Even after soil preparations are made and the proper pH level is achieved, an application of starter fertilizer will help jumpstart the plant and help it establish a good root system,” he said.

“After that just water and fertilize on normal schedules and watch them grow.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

CENTRAL: Small grains and native pastures were improving due to recent rains. Farmers were nearly finished planting corn, and sorghum planting started. In most areas, soil temperatures were too low to plant cotton. Some Bermuda grass was starting to green up, and pre-emergent grass bur treatments in hay meadows by producers were almost complete. Livestock were in fair condition, and supplemental feeding was still required. Stock tanks were full. Nearly all counties reported good soil moisture and overall good crop, rangeland and pasture conditions.  

ROLLING PLAINS: Temperatures were warm and high winds were reported. Wheat fields in certain areas in the district that received rain a few weeks ago recovered and were being grazed out. In drier areas, light rains helped suffering wheat fields; however, continued moisture was needed to help wheat and with cotton planting. Cattle were still in winter grazing. Pastures were bare and cattle were supplemented with cake or hay. A very light rain did not help soil moisture levels but did help lessen wildfire risk briefly. Burn bans were still in effect for numerous counties.

COASTAL BEND: Sunny, dry, windy conditions decreased topsoil moisture in some areas. However, other areas reported soil moisture was good in most fields, but there were places where soil moisture was a concern. Cotton planting was in full swing. Corn and sorghum planting continued, and some early planted corn had emerged. Fertilizer was being applied to pastures and hay fields. Ranchers were waiting for the chance to spray weeds. Field work was ongoing with seed bed preparation continuing for rice and soybeans. Pastures were good and livestock were doing well.

The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Districts

EAST: Warm weather across the district brought growth of numerous warm-season grasses as well as some winter grasses. Hay supplementation drastically slowed throughout the district due to the growth of grasses. Trinity and Wood counties reported producers still purchasing and feeding hay. Pasture and rangeland conditions were good to fair with the exceptions of Anderson, Newton, Trinity and Shelby counties, which reported poor conditions. Anderson County producers planted hybrids and Coastal Bermuda grasses. Anderson County also reported wheat crops were doing well and cotton land preparation had begun. Jasper and Anderson counties reported 50 percent of corn was planted. Cattle prices in Gregg and Shelby counties fell, but the numbers at sale barns were still good. Counties reported all cattle were in good body condition with cows still dropping calves and gaining weight. Both subsoil and topsoil conditions were reported as adequate across the district. Vegetable producers in Anderson and Marion counties prepared soil and continued planting. Rotten potatoes were reported by some producers in Marion County due to wet soil conditions. Control measures began for weed growth in Henderson and Upshur counties. Wild pigs were rampant in Anderson, Henderson, Smith, Trinity and Upshur counties. Henderson County reported a large increase in fly numbers.  

SOUTH PLAINS: Conditions were very dry. Areas received a brief shower with accumulations from 0.2 to 1 inch. Cropland, pastures, rangeland and winter wheat needed rain. Producers were preparing for spring planting. Cattle were being moved off wheat pasture due to dry conditions.

PANHANDLE: Moisture was needed as dry, windy conditions created high fire danger. Soil moisture was very short. Irrigation was active on wheat and alfalfa. Warmer temperatures allowed for some growth on irrigated wheat, but extreme dry conditions combined with high winds were making progress very difficult. Supplemental feeding for cow/calf operators was very active. Spring calving continued. Prospects for spring rangeland were looking bleak with no moisture for cool-season grasses and weeds to get started. Stockers were grazing limited forages, mostly very short and graze-out wheat. Cattle were moved to other locations.

NORTH: Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels ranged from mostly adequate to surplus in most counties. Sporadic rain was reported in some areas. Wheat and oat fields looked much better due to several days of sunshine and warmer temperatures. Corn farmers were starting to plant with about 10 percent planted. Small-grain farmers were applying fertilizer. Volunteer annual ryegrass was starting to grow and cattle were starting to graze. Winter grasses were coming back to life and starting to green. Livestock remained in good condition from being on good hay and supplements during the winter. Wild pigs increased their activity due to the topsoil moisture and warmer weather.

FAR WEST: Temperatures ranged with highs in the 80s and lows in the high 40s. The district experienced high winds and no moisture. Conditions were getting dire and have begun to affect planting decisions. Producers were deciding against corn due to increased pre-irrigation needs and economics. Land preparation continued at many farms. Pre-irrigation started for cotton and other row crops. Pecans and existing alfalfa fields were getting some irrigation from mainly effluent water. Wheat fields were basically finished. Rio Grande Project Water was released, and irrigation season will officially begin soon. Fire danger was present with increased winds, and precautions were advised. Fruit trees were starting to bud. Rangelands were not green due to lack of moisture. Kidding and lambing were in full swing.

WEST CENTRAL: Cool nights and warmer days were reported throughout the district. Some frost in the mornings was still noted. The district needed rainfall. High winds and dry conditions have made burn bans necessary for many counties. Wheat and oat pastures were improving due to recent moisture and were providing grazing for producers. Many producers were busy with field preparations for spring planting including grain sorghum and cotton. Cool-season grasses and weeds were also slowly starting to grow. Livestock were in fair condition with spring forages picking up, but supplemental feeding was still needed. Cattle prices were strong with good demand at market.

SOUTHEAST: Livestock were in good condition. Row-crop producers were planting corn and sorghum, and some were beginning to plant cotton and rice. Early planted corn and sorghum were emerging. In Brazos County, cool-season forages were growing well. Flag leaves in small grain fields were visible. Conditions were dry in some areas, and the weather was drying many pastures. Spring weeds and grasses were in full force. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely from excellent to poor with fair ratings being most common. Soil-moisture levels ranged widely from adequate to surplus with adequate being most common.

SOUTHWEST: Warmer temperatures and windy days were drying out soil. Rain was needed. Rangeland and pastures were showing signs of drought. Water availability to livestock and wildlife was being monitored.

SOUTH: Mild conditions continued with no rain reported in most of the district. Eastern parts of the district reported 0.2 of an inch of rain. Hot weather conditions were reported in the southernmost part of the district with very short to short soil moisture levels. Corn planting continued and wheat started to head. Some areas reported short soil moisture while others reported adequate moisture for planting. Rangeland and pasture conditions remained fair; however, increasing daytime temperatures may cause grasses to begin showing signs of drought stress. Body condition scores on cattle remained fair with supplemental feeding slowing. Most vegetable crops were already planted, and Coastal Bermuda grass was green and expected to be ready for a first cut next month. Zavala County reported very cool conditions for most of the reporting period, which was good for spinach, cabbage and onions. However, it slowed development of corn, sorghum and cotton fields, but those crops should make good progress once it becomes warmer. Spinach harvest was active. Native rangeland and pastures continued to green up, providing a fair amount of grazing for livestock, and some producers reported a decrease in supplemental feeding due to pasture green up. In Webb County, temperatures were beginning to rise into the 90s. Livestock producers reported stock tanks were beginning to run short. Cattle numbers at auction were on the rise, but the market was on the lower side. In Hidalgo County, harvest of sugarcane, citrus and vegetables continued.


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AgriLife Extension offers publications for wildfire preparation, safety

Writer: Kay Ledbetter, 806-677-5608,
Contacts: Dr. Tim Steffens, 806-651-2781,
Dr. Morgan Russell, 325-653-4576,

AMARILLO – Preparing for wildfire response ahead of time is one of the most important steps a Texas landowner, whether they are major ranching operations or small property owners, can take.

The flames from the Old Muddy Road wildfire in Potter County can be seen from the edge of Amarillo, 15 miles away. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

With the wildfire season really heating up, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service is offering several fact sheets to help homeowners prepare for and mitigate wildfire damages.

“We are going to have fire,” said Dr. Tim Steffens, AgriLife Extension range management specialist in Canyon. “But we can better manage fuel loads, the continuity of fuels and defensible space to make fighting the wildfires easier.”

In the past week, Texas A&M Forest Service has responded to more than 25 fires for about 30,000 acres across Texas. The majority of those acres burned were in the High Plains, including fires of 4,480 acres, 2,976 acres and 400 acres in Potter County, 300 acres in Randall County and 15,682 in Oldham, Hartley and Moore counties.

But the fires were not limited to that region, as the dry areas stretch throughout the central and western parts of the state. Other fires included 400 acres inside the city limits of Monahans, 458 acres near Brownwood, 2,500 acres near Levelland and 614 acres near Matador.

A prescribed burn official monitors the low and slow flames that creep along grassland in a controlled burn on a ranch north of Amarillo. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

Two publications covering wildfire behavior and emergency responses that can help protect property and lives when wildfire occurs were recently released by Steffens; Dr. Morgan Russell, AgriLife Extension range specialist, San Angelo; and Kathryn Radicke, a graduate research assistant at Texas Tech University.

Wildfire Behavior and Emergency Response and Safeguarding Against Wildfire were added to the AgriLife Extension Bookstore,, under the search term “wildfire.” Russell also has a Wildfire Ready Checklist fact sheet to help landowners develop a profile specific to their property.

Steffens said last year’s fires might have scared some people away from the idea of conducting prescribed burns on their property, but others have learned they are a tool.

“You can have a say about how big and intense the fire is and where it will be on your property with a prescribed fire,” he said. “The more we have prescribed burning, the better we can manage fuel loads and it will make fighting the wildfires easier.”

“Prescribed burning and grazing are two important processes and tools to manage volatile fuel loads in fire-dominated ecosystems, such as the Panhandle,” Russell said. “The best way to prepare for fire is to incorporate fire into a ranch management plan, like you would drought or a grazing rotation.”

The publications provide information to help landowners increase the fire resistance of buildings, develop defensible spaces, and manage fuel loads and fuel breaks.

When wildfire is a threat, one fact sheet offers these steps:

– Plan ahead to help keep calm, think clearly, and act decisively and correctly in the face of rapidly changing conditions.

– Use news coverage, scanners, telephones and mass alerts to stay informed regarding fire front locations, weather conditions and forecasts, and rate of fire spread to plan well in advance based on current and potential fire behavior.

– Prepare for escape that may be required on short notice.

– Follow instructions of professional fire-fighting personnel quickly and accurately.

– Identify escape routes and safety zones, and make them known to others well before the fire approaches.

– Give clear instructions and ensure they are understood, particularly regarding evacuation procedures, routes and rallying points.

For a complete list of wildfire-related documents concerning preparation, mitigation and recovery, go to:



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Texas A&M scientist is among team to prove royalty among termites


Discovery could lead to eco-friendly control measures

Writer: Steve Byrns, 325-653-4576,

Contact: Dr. Ed Vargo, 979-845-5855,

                COLLEGE STATION – Termites! Just the insects’ common name can strike fear in the hearts of most any homeowner, but a recently published work could go a long way in quelling some of those fears, said one of the authors.

                Dr. Ed Vargo, Endowed Chair in Urban and Structural Entomology at Texas A&M University, College Station, is among a team of scientists who recently published “Identification of a Queen and King Recognition Pheromone in the Subterranean Termite Reticulitermes,” in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

                Co-authors with Vargo were Dr. Coby Schal, Blanton J. Whitmire Distinguished Professor of Entomology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina; Colin Funaro, doctoral student for Vargo and Schal, North Carolina State University; and Dr. Katalin Boroczky, research chemist, Penn State University, State College, Pennsylvania.

Pictured, are the royals: a queen and king of Reticulitermes flavipes, the eastern subterranean termite. (photo by Dr. Benoit Guenard, assistant biology professor, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China)

                Termites are group of wood-eating insects that serve as important decomposers in nature, but some types are highly destructive pests to human-built structures, Vargo said.

                “Regardless of type, all termites live in highly cooperative colonies consisting of different castes, such as the kings and queens, the reproductive caste and the worker or non-reproductive caste,” Vargo said. “It’s long been suspected that termites within a colony can distinguish caste members based on chemical cues, but until now no active chemical compounds had been identified. Our team of biologists and chemists set out to identify those chemical cues that mediate caste recognition.”

                To find those chemical cues, called pheromones, the team selected Reticulitermes flavipes, the most widespread North American termite species, to study. They isolated a hydrocarbon, heneicosane, a substance unique to royals, applied it to glass “dummy queens” and were able to duplicate the same behavior in workers to the glass queens as they exhibit to real termite royals.

                Vargo said the work represents an important breakthrough, especially when one considers social insects such as honeybees, fire ants and termites are remarkable creatures among which thousands of individuals work together to form a superorganism.

                “How these superorganisms function and how they evolved have long been of intense interest to scientists,” he said. “This work helps us understand how termites and other social insect colonies function and offers a window into their evolution.

Because termites rely heavily on chemical communication to function efficiently, by decoding their chemical language, in the future we may be able to disrupt their activity in a targeted and environmentally friendly way to protect our homes and property.”


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Hemphill County beef conference April 24-25 to address drought, environmental conditions

Writer: Kay Ledbetter, 806-677-5608,
Contact: Andy Holloway, 806-323-9114,

CANADIAN – As a cattle rancher, knowing when and what resources are available on the land is the key to efficiency. These topics will be addressed at the 2018 Hemphill County-Texas A&M AgriLife Beef Cattle Conference and Ag Tour set for April 24-25.

Matching cattle to the environment is a key to ranch efficiency. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

“This year’s conference is going to be our best ever, as we have gathered 15 nationally recognized speakers and will have a trade show with 50-plus agribusinesses represented,” said Andy Holloway, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agriculture and natural resources agent for Hemphill County.

Holloway said producers from Texas and 10 or more other states are expected to attend to hear experts address industry hot topics. In addition to speakers, attendees will be treated to three beef meals and two ranch tours, as well as a tour of the Hemphill County Pioneer Museum.

The cost is $100 and a spouse ticket is $85. The main conference will be in the Jones Pavilion, 1101 N. Sixth St. in Canadian.

Advance registration is open at Participants can also call the AgriLife Extension office in Hemphill County at 806-323-9114 or contact Christa Perry at to register or receive additional information.

The theme this year is “How to produce more calves out of your cowherd,” Holloway said.

“An important part of producing more calves is how well your production practices on the ranch match the cattle to the environment, and how prepared you are for the conditions that Mother Nature throws our way,” Holloway said.

On April 24, a special panel discussion, “Wildfires, How Do We Prepare?” will feature Dr. Morgan Russell, AgriLife Extension range specialist, San Angelo; Adam Isaacs, Hemphill County rancher; and Tiffany Dowell Lashmet, AgriLife Extension agricultural law specialist, Amarillo.

“We added this panel discussion because this year is shaping up to be a dry one, and we know from past experience wildfires can and do happen,” Holloway said. “Dr. Russell is an expert on prescribed burns and she will walk us through the benefits of planning ahead, while Tiffany Lashmet will help us talk through all the legalities involved.”

On April 25, speakers will use local ranches as backdrops for more in-depth discussions on analyzing cattle production from a forage availability standpoint.

Dr. David Lalman, Oklahoma State University Harrington Chair and beef cattle specialist, Stillwater, Oklahoma, will speak at the Rader Ranch near Glazier on “Efficiency and Matching Cattle to the Environment.”

Lalman will emphasize increasing profitability and sustainability, reducing production costs through improved forage utilization, better matching beef cattle genetics to forage resources and evaluating beef production systems and alternatives.

Dr. Tim Steffens, AgriLife Extension rangeland specialist, Canyon, will continue at the Rader Ranch with “Matching My Production Cycles to Forage Quantity and Quality.” He will discuss how the calf crop can be affected by what is growing in the pasture.

When the tour moves to the Haley Ranch, Dr. Ted McCollum, AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist in Amarillo, will present “Dusting off Your Drought Plan.”

“We’ve been without significant moisture for about five months now, and if that doesn’t plant us squarely in a drought, I’m not sure what does,” Holloway said. “Dr. McCollum will help our attendees check off key management practices necessary to help them survive in these extended dry periods.”



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Does the Clean Water Act Apply to Groundwater?

If a person discharges a pollutant from a point source into groundwater, and that pollutant then reaches a “Water of the United States” as defined under the Clean Water Act, is a discharge permit required?  Two recent court cases have reached different results on this issue and now the Environmental Protection Agency is seeking public comment on this question.


The Clean Water Act Section 402 requires a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for the discharge of “pollutants” from “point sources” into “navigable waters.”  Each of these terms is further defined under the Clean Water Act.  A “pollutant” is broadly defined and includes any type of industrial, municipal, or agricultural waste.  Examples could include soil, rock, fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, or manure.  A “point source” is defined as “any discernible, confined, and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to any pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, discrete fissure, container, rolling stock, concentrated animal feeding operation, or vessel or other floating craft, from which pollutants are or may be discharged.” Finally, “navigable waters” are defined as being “waters of the United States,” the proper definition of which there have been years of debate and litigation.

Hawai’i Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui

The County of Maui has four wells at a wastewater facility that currently serve as a means of disposing sewage (effluent) into groundwater and eventually into the Pacific Ocean.  When sewage is received by the facility, it is treated and then either sold for irrigation purposes or injected into these wells for disposal.  All parties agree that once the effluent is injected into the groundwater, some of it eventually reaches the Pacific Ocean.  This was confirmed by various studies, including one conducted in 2013 using tracer dye to determine when and where the effluent disposed of in the wells took to reach the Pacific.

The Hawai’i Wildlife Fund filed suit and the trial court found that the County of Maui violated the Clean Water Act by discharging effluent into groundwater and into the Ocean without the required NPDES permit.  The trial court also held that groundwater was a Water of the United States.  The County appealed to the United States Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit.

The Ninth Circuit upheld the trial court decision.  [Read full Opinion here.]  The Court easily found that the effluent was a pollutant and that the wells constitute a “point source” discharge.  The court “assumed without deciding” that groundwater was neither a point source discharge, nor a Water of the United States. The critical issue in the case became whether the Clean Water Act applies only where the pollutant is discharged directly into a Water of the United States, or whether it applies where a pollutant is discharged into groundwater and then indirectly makes its way into a Water of the United States.

The Court held that because a county discharges pollutants from a point source that ends up in a Water of the United States, a permit was required, regardless of the fact that it travels through groundwater as a channel to reach the jurisdictional water.  The opinion cites cases from other courts reaching the same result.  Thus, because the County (1) discharged pollutants from a point source, (2) the pollutants are “fairly traceable from the point source to a navigable water such that the discharge is the functional equivalent of a discharge into the navigable water,” and (3) the pollutant levels reaching the navigable water are more than de minimus, the Clean Water Act does apply and a NPDES permit was required.

Kentucky Waterways Alliance v. Kentucky Utilities Co.

A coal-fired power plant in Kentucky is located near Herrington Lake.  The plant generates coal combustion residuals of fly ash and bottom ash as a result of its coal-burning processes.  Historically, the residuals were disposed of by transport through a sluice system to settling ponds.  The Sierra Club claims that the plant’s settling ponds are contaminating groundwater in the area and that the contaminated groundwater was discharging via spring into Herrington Lake.  They filed a citizen suit against the plant based, in part, on an alleged violation of the Clean Water Act, claiming that the plant is discharging pollutants, which have seeped from the ponds into the groundwater which emerges from springs and discharges into Herrington Lake, a Water of the United States, without a permit.

The plant filed a Motion to Dismiss the Clean Water Act claims because the Sierra Club did not allege that “pollutants are conveyed directly” from the ponds to the navigable waters and that the pollution is non-point source, which is not governed by the Clean Water Act.  The plaintiffs responded that their allegation that the groundwater is hydrologically connected to the Water of the United States was sufficient to state a claim.

The US Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Kentucky sided with the plaint and dismissed the case. [Read full opinion here.] In analyzing the issue, the Court noted that the Plaintiffs do not argue the groundwater itself is a WOTUS and the Court said that was “with good reason” as the vast majority of courts to consider this issue have rejected that argument.  However, courts are divided over whether hydrologically connected groundwater qualifies as a point source under the Clean Water Act.  This court found that it does not and stated that “adopting this theory would be inconsistent with the text and structure of the Clean Water Act.”

EPA Comment Period

The EPA is now seeking public comment on this issue.  [View full Request for Comment here.]  In the request for public comment, the EPA states that it has “previously states that pollutants discharged from point sources that reach jurisdictional surface waters via groundwater or other subsurface flow that has a direct hydrologic connection to the jurisdictional water may be subject to Clean Water Act permitting requirements.”  The EPA makes clear it has never taken the position that all discharges of point source pollutants into groundwater would require a NPDES permit, but that the permit requirement in this context is limited to situations where the pollutants discharged into the groundwater reach a jurisdictional surface water to which the groundwater has that hydrologic connection.  The EPA request for comments also mentioned a number of cases across the country addressing this issue, which have resulted in jurisdictional splits and differing approaches among  various courts.

The comment period is open now through May 21, 2018.


The scope of the Clean Water Act is a complex issue, as we have seen over the past several years with regard to the scope and definition of what constitutes a “Water of the United States.”  This is another example of the difficulty facing landowners in determining how to comply with the Clean Water Act and courts in resolving these type of cases.

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