Texas crop, weather: Much wheat is unlikely to make a crop

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COLLEGE STATION – Despite recent rains that greened up much of the wheat crop, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomist is expecting a below-normal crop this year.

“There were lots of troubles with stand establishment and drought through the fall and winter,” said Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension agronomist and Texas A&M University soil and crop sciences associate department head. “Stands are skimpy and weak.”

There are parts of the state where wheat does look good, Miller said, but big parts of the Rolling Plains and the western/northern parts of the High Plains may not make a crop.

North and east of Dallas, it’s a different story, he said.

“From the Metroplex north and east, it looks like a pretty darn good crop,” he said. “There was some segregation, by which I mean, part of the stand coming up in November and part coming up in January. But overall, that’s the best looking wheat in the state, northern Blacklands, northeast part of the state.”

For other areas, the future of wheat depends upon the future of rains.

The projections are for above–normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation for the spring, with chances for either above- or below-average summer precipitation a coin flip, Miller said.

“For the temperatures, it’s not a coin flip, and higher temperatures mean there will be need for above-average precipitation because of higher evapotranspiration rates,” he said.

In the South Plains, there was a “substantial acreage” of wheat planted because of the high grain prices, said Dr. Calvin Trostle, AgriLife Extension agronomist in Lubbock.

There’s also a lot of acres planted with wheat purely for a cover crop to prevent wind erosion, and despite light planting rates, there are some producers who have decided to try for grain harvest, according to Trostle.

“I looked at one of those fields that a farmer wanted to take for grain and wondered whether to increase irrigation and top dress (with nitrogen),” Trostle said. “He had a good wheat variety, the planting date was decent in mid-November, it had already tillered a little bit, and I said, ‘yes, I don’t think your yield potential is down that much.’

“That gives you a picture of how much folks would like to take a wheat crop to grain,” Trostle said.

There are a lot of other considerations that have to be made, such as available irrigation water, and, of course, future rains, Trostle said.

But a lot of wheat is his area is “just hanging on,” and needs a good rain.

“You can have wheat that doesn’t look very good, but we can pick up a rain in March and then again in April and be very surprised of how productive it can be,” Trostle said.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, about 75 percent of the state remained under severe to extreme drought.

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/.

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for the week of Feb. 12-19:

Panhandle: Most of the region received much-needed moisture in the form of snow, from a trace up to 8 inches. Soil-moisture levels varied from very short to adequate, with most counties reporting short. Wheat was in from very poor to excellent condition, with most counties reporting poor. Many producers started pivot irrigating wheat to realize some grazing. Rangeland and pastures were in very poor to fair condition, with most reporting poor to very poor. Stocker cattle numbers were low because of limited grazing. Feed costs continued to increase, and producers further reduced livestock herds.

South Plains: Most counties reported some precipitation, from a trace to 1 inch of rain, with as much as 4 inches of snow in some northern counties. While the moisture was helpful, most dryland winter wheat remained in poor condition and in need of moisture. Irrigated wheat was in fair condition. Daily temperatures in some counties were in the 70s already, with most averaging in the 50s and 60s. A rapidly moving cold front reduced the highs to the 30s and 40s for a couple of days. Producers were getting ready for spring planting. Some were applying herbicides to reduce pigweed populations in the spring. Pastures and rangeland were dry and mostly in fair to poor condition. Ranchers had reduced stocking rates in the past couple of years and were expected to continue to do so if there is no rain by spring. Livestock were in mostly fair to good condition with supplemental feeding continuing, especially on cold and wet days.

The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Districts

Rolling Plains: Although parts of the region received rain this past week, soil-moisture levels remained relatively low, and more moisture was needed for pastures to recover from the drought. Some producers recently cleaned out dirt tanks or ponds and reported finding moisture down to 2 feet, but dry dirt below that. Grazing was running low, but livestock were in fair condition. Producers were running cattle on winter wheat, but without moisture, this year’s wheat crop won’t last long. Livestock inventories were considerably lower than in previous years, but ranchers were not planning to restock due to lack of grazing and cattle prices. Supplemental feeding included syrup tubs. Native rangeland and pastures were in poor to very poor condition. Farmers began preparing fields for the upcoming crop year and found adequate soil-moisture levels but worried they would drop with spring planting. Some counties remained under strict water-conservation measures.

North: Recent rains raised soil-moisture levels and helped recharge livestock ponds, but winds were rapidly drying out the topsoil. Unseasonably warm weather caused Bermuda grass pastures to green up, and farmers were concerned about a freeze setting it back. Rain and sunshine perked up wheat. Wheat pastures were rated in good condition, as was the wheat to be harvested as grain. Livestock producers were feeding more because winter pastures did not grow as anticipated, but hay supplies seemed to be holding up. Cattle were in fair to good condition. Feral hogs were active in all areas.

East: Winter pasture conditions improved with recent rains, and ponds were filling up. Cattle were in good condition, and hay supplies were good as well. Cattle prices remained high. Producers in some counties were taking samples for soil tests and preparing for spring fertilizer applications. Recent unseasonably warm weather resulted in some plant species to begin budding early. Ryegrass started to grow. Feral hogs continued to be a problem.
Far West: The highs were in the upper 60s to mid 70s, with lows in the upper 40s. There has been no significant, measurable precipitation since early January. With high winds and the passage of cold fronts, Presidio County remained in high alert for wildfires. Cotton growers were preparing fields for planting, and the alfalfa season will be starting soon. Though weedy, rangeland and pastures were in fair condition for this time of year.

West Central: Dry, windy conditions continued. Daytime temperatures were mild; nights cold. Some areas reported scattered showers, but rainfall totals remained below average for the season. Farmers were preparing fields for planting, but the outlook for spring crops was poor due to the dry conditions. Wheat is short for this time of year. Rangeland and pastures continued to decline. Some cool-season forages were trying to grow in pastures. Producers continued supplemental feeding of livestock and were holding back on restocking herds due to the drought. Stock-water tank levels were critically low and continued to drop. The pecan harvest was completed with below average nut quality.

Central: Bermuda grass pastures were greening up very early. Producers were already grazing cattle on wheat and oat pastures. Some farmers began planting corn and sunflowers. Most finished top dressing wheat with fertilizer. Some stock-water tanks were filled by runoff. Producers hoped for colder weather to slow down small grains.

Southeast: San Jacinto County had cooler soil temperatures that slowed the growth of summer forages, but winter forages such as oats, wheat, annual rye and various clovers were doing well. Waller County also had cooler and drier weather. Burleson County’s dry conditions returned. Armyworms caused minor damage in oat and ryegrass pastures. Orange County continued to have dry conditions that limited late-season grass development. There were talks of instigating a burn ban following the last hard frost.

Southwest: Dry conditions persisted. Livestock producers continued to provide supplemental feed to cattle. Farmers were preparing fields for spring planting.

Coastal Bend: Eastern counties had rain and warmer temperatures. The rain halted planting in some eastern counties. The western part of the region continued to experience drought conditions, and very few farmers were fertilizing fields as there was scant stored soil moisture to sustain a crop. Livestock producers in most areas continued to provide supplemental feed to cattle, hay or protein or both. Where pastures were limited, the culling of herds continued. Washington County ryegrass and oat pastures showed some growth. Volunteer ryegrass sprouted in many areas as a result of recent rainfall and warmer weather. In Colorado County, winter wheat had emerged but not yet set seed. In DeWitt County, corn planting began. Soil moisture was adequate there, but more rain was needed. 
San Patricio County livestock were in relatively good condition despite short forages. The soil moisture profile in most of the county was still very dry. In Wharton County, topsoil moisture levels were rated fair. Farmers were fertilizing corn fields, with planting expected to begin soon.

South: Very dry and windy weather continued, with warmer than usual daytime temperatures. Nights were on the cool side. Soil-moisture levels were mostly short to very short throughout the eastern, western and southern counties. In the northern part of the region, recent rains helped green up rangeland and pastures. Most of the southern part of the region did not receive any significant rain. In Frio County, potatoes emerged, and wheat and oats were in fair condition. In Jim Wells County, ample moisture helped row crops a little, but more rain was needed to really promote establishment. Maverick County wheat was doing well under irrigation. In Zavala County, very dry conditions have stressed dryland wheat and oats. Producers with irrigation were watering winter vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, onions and carrots. Also in that area, the harvesting of processed and fresh-market spinach was very active, while some cabbage fields were not quite ready for harvesting. In Hidalgo County, farmers were busy planting corn and grain sorghum, and were almost finished planting sunflowers. In Starr County, spring vegetable and row-crop planting was under way. In Willacy County, growers began planting grain sorghum the second week of February, and some of the crop had already emerged. Ranchers continued supplemental feeding of livestock. Where there was rain, stock-tank water levels increased a little, but tanks in other areas, such as Webb County, still needed heavy runoff to refill those that were dry or nearly dry.


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