Texas crop, weather: Winter wheat crop in trouble

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COLLEGE STATION – With very dry conditions setting in, most winter wheat stands are already severely stressed.

“We had one of the driest Octobers on record in Texas, and essentially no rain at all in November,” said Dr. Travis Miller, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service program leader and Texas A&M University soil and crop sciences associate department head. “Most stands are still hanging on, but they can only do that for a little while with the amount of rainfall we got.”

Over the last week of September, much of the state was fortunate to get enough rain to plant winter wheat and get it emerged, but with the exceptionally dry October and November, growth has been limited and stands are at risk.

Most Texas wheat was planted late-September through mid-November, with about 6 million acres planted, according to Miller. Typically, 55 to 60 percent of the crop is grazed, and the remainder is just planted for grain. But a lot of the wheat was planted on about 1 inch of rain in the topsoil, with no deep soil moisture because of the 2011 and 2012 drought.

For a number of reasons, the loss of wheat stands would create substantial hardships for producers, he said. One, hay barns were emptied during the 2011 drought, and many cow/calf and stocker producers need winter wheat for grazing to carry livestock through the winter.

Another frustration is that 2011 was economically devastating for many producers, and historically high wheat grain prices promised some great returns on investment. And wheat futures are likely to get even higher, as Oklahoma and western Kansas wheat growing conditions are not good.

As for grazing, if producers haven’t already gotten good growth for early grazing, they’re not likely to, Miller said.

“The reason we get good growth on fall-planted small grains is warmer temperatures and longer days, and as we get into cooler temperatures and shorter days, growth drops off,” he said. “October is usually a great month for small grain growth.”

But the story of wheat grown for grain is far from over, according to Miller.

“We can still make a decent wheat crop—don’t be mistaken about that,” he said. “If we can just keep the stands alive through the winter, and if we get some snowfall or rainfall in the spring, then it can come around.”

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 Nov. 12–19:

Central: Overall, conditions remained very dry. Pastures and small grains were beginning to show stress from lack of moisture. Winter wheat was really starting to suffer. Light frosts in the bottoms slowed summer pasture growth. Winter pastures were slow to respond to earlier rains. Stocker producers will have to delay turning out cattle to graze on wheat and oats. The pecan harvest continued, with many pecans germinating while still on the tree.

Coastal Bend: Most areas reported below-normal temperatures with very little rain. Soils remained extremely dry, which discouraged farmers from applying fertilizer. The pecan harvest was ongoing, with good quality reported. Some areas reported ryegrass, wheat, oats and clover for grazing looked very good, and that hay supplies were sufficient. The ratoon rice harvest was winding down. Field preparations for next season’s crops continued under favorable weather, but rain will be needed before planting in early 2013. In Wharton County, only 0.34 inch of rain was recorded so far for November, with only 0.43 inch in October.

East: There was little to no rainfall across most of the region, with cooler temperatures and morning frost. Hay harvesting ended, with fair to good supplies going into winter. Livestock producers continued weaning and selling market-ready calves and cull cows. Higher-than-normal winds dried soils. In some areas, winter pastures were slow to emerge and grow because of lack of moisture.

Far West: Without rain, the area was becoming droughty again. Temperatures were cooler, with lows in the lower 20s, the upper teens in the mountains, and highs in the lower 60s to 70s. There was a killing freeze. Winds picked up with the passage of cold fronts, increasing wildfire danger. A lack of rain and cooler temperatures continued to push grasses into dormancy. Without moisture, rangeland and pastures were rapidly yellowing and browning. Fall-planted onions were at the three-leaf stage. The last alfalfa cutting was taken, and the cotton harvest was going well. Pumpkins were harvested, pecans were rapidly maturing, and the hay and sorghum harvests were winding down. Wheat planting was about finished, with more than 90 percent of the already-planted crop emerged, but all needed rain for growth to begin. Cattle were on supplemental feed and consuming large amounts of mineral, and livestock producers were looking for alternatives . Most cattle remained in good shape. Calves weaned much heavier than last year, and the percentage of successfully bred cows was also much improved.

North: Soils still remained very dry. Small grains and winter annual pastures needed rain. Most already-planted wheat had emerged and was looking good, but needed more rain to promote growth. The soybean and sorghum harvests were ongoing. In most counties, winter pasture was looking good. Some livestock producers began to turn weaned calves in to graze winter pastures. With no measurable runoff in the last 60 days in many places, livestock ponds were at critically low levels. Feral hogs were active, with damage reported in southern Kaufman County. Titus County had its first freeze.

Panhandle: Temperatures were above average most of the week, with no moisture reported. Soil-moisture levels mostly were very short to short. The corn, cotton and grain sorghum harvests continued. Planting of winter wheat continued. Rangeland and pastures mostly were in very poor to poor condition. Cattle were in good condition with continued supplemental feeding.

Rolling Plains: While the region got scattered showers, most everyone still needed more rain. The cotton harvest was in full swing. Some irrigated fields were producing good yields, but others were seeing below-average yields. Wheat and oats needed rain; fields looked stressed with some areas having died out. Cattle were in fair condition. Livestock producers were working remaining cattle. Pastures looked better going into winter this year than last.

South: Dry and windy conditions were the rule for the entire region during most of the week, with 40 to 100 percent short to very short soil-moisture levels in all counties. A cool front moved across the northern counties early in the week, bringing light rains, but not enough to improve soil-moisture levels. In Atascosa and Frio counties, wheat and oats were in good to fair condition. All crops were planted, and nearly all emerged. In Maverick County, forage sorghum and coastal Bermuda grass hay harvesting continued. Also in that area, nearly all grain sorghum was harvested. Zavala County cool-season vegetable growers were busy irrigating cabbage, carrots, spinach and onions. Harvesting of spinach—both for processing and the fresh market—and cabbage continued. In Cameron County, producers were harvesting sugarcane and irrigating onions. In Hidalgo County, the vegetable, citrus and sugarcane harvests were ongoing. In Starr County, growers were harvesting late cantaloupes. Rangeland and pasture conditions continued to decline there because of cooler temperatures and low soil moisture. Summer perennial grasses were going into dormancy. The northern half of McMullen County had good pasture conditions, but forage supplies were expected to be short for the winter months in the southern half of the county as severe drought conditions continued there. Most Webb County stock tanks remained dry. Cattle body condition scores were fair.

South Plains: The region had much cooler temperatures, with the early morning lows in the 20s in many counties. With freezing temperatures in the southern counties, cotton not previously defoliated was expected to soon be ready for harvest. Only Lubbock County reported receiving any precipitation, with light rains on Nov. 18. The cotton harvest was winding down in most counties, giving time for producers who haven’t yet planted winter wheat to do so. Wheat already planted and emerged needed rain. In Lubbock County, ginning was about 50 percent completed. Garza County yields ranged from a half bale to more than three bales per acre, depending on rain received during the growing season. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in fair condition. Cattle were mostly in good condition, with supplemental feeding already beginning in some areas. While conditions were improved over 2011, the region remained gripped by drought. It was unlikely much winter wheat will have enough growth to be grazed without significant rainfall soon.

Southeast: Scattered showers benefited cool-season pastures, but many areas needed more moisture to sustain winter-annual growth. Cooler temperatures halted Bermuda grass growth. San Jacinto and Burleson counties had their first frost Nov. 15, which completely shut down warm-season perennial grass production. Armyworm infestations decreased with the cooler weather. Orange County received limited precipitation.

Southwest: Dry, windy and cooler conditions continued. Without rain, soils were drying up considerably. Rangeland and pastures continued to decline, with dormancy coming on. However, livestock remained in good condition as available grazing was still plentiful. The pecan harvest continued. Winter wheat planting was ongoing, and a good amount of hay was still being cut.

West Central: Mild daytime temperatures continued with cold nights. Very dry, windy conditions further dried soils. All areas needed rain. The cotton harvest was winding down. Fair to poor yields were reported on dryland cotton. Wheat planting neared completion, and though off to a good start, the crop was showing signs of moisture stress. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to good condition but needed moisture soon. Winter grasses were emerging. Recent freezes sent warm-season grasses into dormancy. Livestock remained in fair to good condition, with supplemental feeding increasing. The pecan harvest was in full swing.




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