Jack Frost continues to take bites out of Texas wheat

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COLLEGE STATION – The damage to the wheat crop in the Panhandle, Southern Plains and Rolling Plains regions from the last bout of freezing weather was not uniform, but losses were “significant,” according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomist.

Though ice loads during freezing weather can damage irrigation pivots, many producers will keep them running until it drops well below freezing, said Rick Auckerman, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent for Deaf Smith County. The temperature was 32 degrees with 20 -25 mph northerly wind when this picture was taken. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Rick Auckerman) And further damage probably occured with temperatures below freezing in some of those areas April 22-23, said Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension agronomist and Texas A&M University soil and crop sciences associate department head. Temperatures were likely low enough to damaage wheat in boot or blooming.

Freezing weather this late is a rare phenomenon, Miller said. He noted that in his 35 years as an AgriLife Extension agronomist, he’s never seen freezes occur this late in the year.

Brad Charboneau, National Weather Service meteorologist, Lubbock, said the late freezes this year haven’t broken the record yet, but they are “definitely abnormal.” The average last freeze date for Lubbock is April 10, and the record latest freeze was May 8 in 1938.

Generally, Miller said, irrigated wheat in the High Plains was hurt more than dryland wheat, but the damage so far has varied region to region, in some cases county to county — even field to field.

For example, Rick Auckerman, AgriLife Extension agent for Deaf Smith County, west of Amarillo, reported 20 to 50 percent damage from previous freezes with many of the tillers still in good shape.

“Two fields that I had inspected were 75 to 80 percent damaged with collapsed stems and heads dying,” Auckerman said. “These fields were thin plant stands and not irrigated well when this freeze moved in. Now with this last freeze, all bets are off, so to speak, and again we will have to wait to assess this past round of damage.”

Ice loads during freezing weather can cause irrigation pivots to collapse. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Rick Auckerman)

But further north, Brad Easterling, AgriLife Extension agent for Sherman County, north of Amarillo on the Texas/Oklahoma border, reported: “After assessing our wheat, overall don’t think the freeze damage is going to be as bad as what was first thought. We did freeze again last week and another one is expected this week.”

Miller said that dryland wheat farmers who had extensive damage don’t have many options.

“They get only one shot at a crop, and then they’re done due to the very dry soils,” he said. “They had a marginal crop to begin with because of the drought, but some may at least hay it or graze it.”

Irrigated wheat farmers have more options.

“Their biggest interest is to get their crop insurance adjustment as fast as they can,” Miller said. “On the irrigated fields, they still have time to plant an irrigated crop if they kill this wheat and get it off the field, and plant right into it with cotton, sunflowers, sesame, sorghum or another crop.”

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 April 15-22:

Central: The region still needed substantial rains because soil moisture was poor in many areas and stock water tanks low. Corn and sorghum were in good condition because of warmer weather, and oats and wheat were headed out. Livestock were also in good condition. Wheat and oats that suffered freeze damage were being harvested for forage and/or silage. Generally, only low-lying wheat was damaged from the late freeze. Bermuda grass and other warm-season forages were growing where there was adequate soil moisture. In McLennan County, about 10 percent of the wheat crop was significantly affected by the freeze.

Coastal Bend: Parts of the region had light rains with a few heavy, isolated downpours, but much of the area continued to suffer drought conditions. Rice fields were being replanted due to the downpours. Cotton stands were skimpy; a substantial portion was dry-planted and had not emerged. In some counties, cotton had to be replanted as well. Corn has been slow to grow due to cooler-than-normal weather. Winter wheat was fully headed out, and its harvest should begin within about six weeks. Soybeans were being planted at a fast pace as farmers strove to finish before a forecast rain. Ponds remain low or dry in most areas. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to poor condition. Some producers were feeding hay and supplements, while many were culling herds. Most pecan trees were budding.

East: Most counties received rain ahead of a cold front. Cooler nighttime temperatures slowed the growth of warm-season forages. Light frost occurred in low-lying areas. Many counties had freeze damage early to field corn, but the crop appeared to have mostly recovered. Wheat was not freeze damaged and is nearly all headed out. Producers were still assessing freeze damage to blueberries and peaches. On average, temperatures were about 10 degrees below normal for April. Strong winds continued to dry out soils. Cattle remained in good to excellent condition. Most livestock producers ceased feeding hay. Calves were growing well, and the condition of mother cows improved with better grazing. Farmers and ranchers were vaccinating cattle, working new-crop calves, and culling herds. Feral hog damage continued to be reported.

Far West: Highs ranged from the mid 70s to upper 80s. Dry, windy conditions meant red-flag warnings for wildfire remained in effect for most of the area. Pastures suffered as the drought became more severe. Mesquite, sand sage and shin oak were greening up. Annual weeds and wildflowers were sprouting in bar ditches and low areas. Cotton growers continued planting preparations.

North: Soil moisture was adequate to surplus. Corn planting was completed except for those fields that were too wet to enter. For those fields, producers were expected to plant grain sorghum. Wheat and other small grains were doing well with recent rains. Most wheat was headed out and looked good. From 50 to 100 percent of sorghum was planted and in fair to good condition. All cotton and 40 percent of sunflowers were planted. Ryegrass and winter pastures looked good, and livestock producers were able to use them for grazing. Livestock were in good condition, though flies were becoming a problem.

Panhandle: Temperatures varied widely, from above average one day to freezing the next. Soil moisture was very short to adequate, with most counties reporting very short to short. Farmers continued preparing fields for spring planting. Corn growers planned to start planting soon, and some producers were pre-watering. Wheat was in very poor to good condition with most counties reporting poor to very poor. There were reports of wheat damaged by freezing weather throughout the region. Most producers with irrigation were shutting sprinklers down when a freeze was forecast. Several pivots in the Deaf Smith area were damaged in the last freeze, either partially falling down or totally collapsing due to the formation of ice. Greenbug pressure increased, and producers continued to monitor. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in very poor to poor condition.

Rolling Plains: Parts of the region received another freeze, with temperatures dropping into the upper 20s on April 18. AgriLife Extension agronomists held a freeze-assessment clinic in Hardeman County, and most samples showed moderate to severe freeze damage, with only a couple of samples damage-free. The freeze will no doubt result in major yield reduction and hay quality. Producers were waiting on insurance adjuster’s decisions about losses. Some producers will graze out wheat while others will bale it for hay. Cotton farmers were preparing fields for planting while waiting for warmer temperatures and more moisture. Some began pre-watering. Pastures continued to green up, but freezing temperatures also slowed grass growth and injured new leaves. Parts of the region got from 1 inch to 2 inches of rain. Beekeepers reported swarming. Producers were fertilizing and controlling weeds on Bermuda grass pastures.

The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Districts

South: The region had mild temperatures. The northern counties reported 50 to 70 percent short soil moisture levels. The eastern, western and southern counties had 40 to 100 percent very-short soil moisture levels. Throughout the region, livestock producers continued to reduce herds as rangeland and pastures were not recovering. In Frio County, potato, corn and wheat were developing well under irrigation; cotton planting continued and sorghum planting was complete. In McMullen County, forages continued to decrease in quality and quantity, supplemental feeding of livestock was heavy, and cattle body condition stores further declined. In Jim Wells County area, the few crops that emerged were showing signs of moisture stress. Other crops had not yet emerged at all. The drought was also taking a toll on wildlife in many areas in the region. In Maverick County, winter wheat was 100 percent emerged and in good condition. In Zavala County area, corn, onion, cotton, sorghum and cabbage producers continued to irrigate. Also in that area, producers reported wheat being 20 to 25 days from maturity. In the Cameron County area, irrigation water restrictions are taking place in selected water districts. In Hidalgo County, citrus and vegetable harvesting continued, and many acres of various crops and pastures were stressed as a result of the lack of water for irrigation. Many acres of both dryland and irrigated crops were expected to fail. In Starr County, growers were preparing to harvest onions. In Willacy County, many crops did not emerge. Early-planted sorghum did emerge, but stands were very spotty.

South Plains: Continued severe drought with high winds and three late season freezes damaged developing wheat. In some counties, the freeze damage was severe, while in others it was surprisingly been less than expected. Most wheat will either be cut for hay, grazed or killed and put in cotton or sorghum. Some counties reported Russian wheat aphids in fields. Producers began pre-plant irrigation along with fertilizer and herbicide applications. Temperatures were all across the board with highs one day in the 90s and lows the next into the 20s. There was no measurable precipitation. Rangeland and pastures were in fair condition, as were livestock with supplemental feeding on cool/cold days.

Southeast: The last very late frost was of concern for wheat growers. Annual forages are showing good growth in response to recent rains. Madison County continued to have good rains, and pastures grasses were growing well in many areas. Walker County needed more rain though pastures were currently alright. Burleson County reported below-average temperatures slowed the development of warm-season pastures. In Chambers County, rice producers were waiting on fields to dry out before planting. Without further rains, they expect to get back in fields next week. Forage growth was rapid in Orange County. The weather has been diverse, with rain and high humidity followed by a front that brought cooler temperatures and sunny conditions.

Southwest: Recent showers came to some areas, but passed over others. Cooler temperatures slowed Bermuda grass growth. Cotton farmers sped up planting. Corn and grain sorghum fields were being cultivated and irrigated. Rangeland continue to be dry.

West Central: Temperatures were up and down with mild days and cool nights. Wildfire danger remained extremely high due to continued warm, dry and windy conditions. Light rains were reported in several areas, but none were significant. Soil-moisture levels continued to decline, which was a big concern for spring and summer crops. Field preparations for summer forage planting was under way. Producers were applying yellow herbicides (dinitroaniline) in preparation for cotton planting. Sorghum planting began. Corn planting was finished, and the crop was off to a good start under irrigation. Some dryland grain crops will have to be harvested to satisfy insurance claims. Rangeland and pastures continued to decline due to lack of moisture. A late frost set back forbs and grasses needed for grazing. Stock-tank water levels remained down.


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