Central Texas wheat took a freeze hit, but it could be worse

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COLLEGE STATION – There was considerable damage to Central Texas wheat from a late-March freeze, but it could have been a lot worse, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service crops expert.

“We still don’t know the full extent of the damage,” said Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension agronomist and Texas A&M University soil and crop sciences associate department head. “Some areas were pretty severely hit and some less so.”

During early April, Miller, with Dr. Gaylon Morgan and Dr. Clark Neely, both also AgriLife Extension agronomists, along with county agents, toured various sites and conducted wheat-freeze clinics in the Blacklands, where wheat was more mature and therefore more likely to suffer damage from temperatures that in some cases dropped into the mid-20s.

“The good news appears to come from the High Plains. Although there were some reports of injury, it was not extensive – just a little here and there,” Miller said.

However, a major cold front was predicted in the Panhandle during the night of March 9 that has the potential to cause damage to the area’s wheat, he noted.

In Central Texas, where there was more damage from the March freeze, it’s still hard to estimate how many acres of wheat were damaged, he said.

“It’s a situation where the upper part of your field may be okay, and the lower third of it may have 20 or 25 percent damage. You just struggle to get a number on something like that.”

Miller said he and his colleagues saw two types of injury during their wheat-freeze clinics.

“We saw lot of sterilization of heads,” he said. “And then we had stem injury where it ruptured the water and nutrient carrying vessels in the stem, and the plant just quit carrying water and the leaves were drying up. There’s some of both kinds of damage, but obviously the plant can’t recover if the growing point or the head freezes. It just dies.”

Miller said he and his colleagues also saw quite a bit of freeze injury to corn, but that this crop will generally recover.

“Overall, the damage was not nearly as extensive as I’ve seen in some freezes in the past,” he said. “Certainly if you’re one of those farmers who had more advanced wheat, it looks pretty severe to you.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for the week from April 1-8:

The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Districts

Central: There were good rains, with accumulations from 1.5 inch to 6 inches. Significant freeze damage to wheat and oats was reported in some areas. Some producers were wondering whether or not to bale wheat or take it to harvest. They were also in contact with their insurance agents. Fruit trees suffered freeze damage as well.

Coastal Bend: Some areas reported rain, but accumulations varied widely, from as little as 0.1 inch to as much as 4 inches. About half of DeWitt County got from 1 inch to 3 inches, while the rest of the county received only trace amounts. In Wharton County, rainstorms were also fickle, with the north end of the county getting from 2.5 to almost 4 inches, while the southern part of the county got as little as 0.3 inch. The county got some golf-ball size hail with the rain. The extent of any damage to corn, sorghum, and cotton fields, if any, was not yet determined. Karnes County had limited rainfall in the last two months, but it was enough to cause corn to emerge. Refugio County farmers mostly completed planting and continued to hope for rain. Livestock producers were considering selling out because of the drought. San Patricio County did not get rain, and producers were dry-planting the rest of their cotton fields. Corn and grain sorghum were up but some stands are not uniform. Livestock producers there were also selling off cattle due to poor pasture conditions.

East: Most counties reported from 1 inch to 4 inches of rain, which improved soil-moisture conditions, as well as lake and pond levels. Many farmers were fertilizing hay fields. Warm-season vegetables and grasses continued to be planted. With more acreage planted this year, truck farmers were in full swing planting and harvesting cool-season vegetables. Weed control was under way. Winter pastures were still growing well, allowing producers to feed less hay. Cattle were in good shape, and calves were growing well. Livestock producers turned bulls out for rebreeding. Feral hogs were active.

Far West: The region had warm days and chilly nights. In some counties, scattered showers accompanied cold fronts, with accumulations varying from a trace to 1 inch. Cotton farmers continued to prepare fields for planting. Alfalfa producers had or were about to take their first cuttings. Livestock producers were in the middle of spring branding. Mother cows were generally in fair to poor shape with those with larger calves losing condition faster. Stocker cattle were doing fairly well with little sickness or poisonous weed problems reported.

North: Soil-moisture levels were adequate to surplus as rain fell across the region improving pastures. Livestock were in good condition, and producers were taking full advantage of growing ryegrass and wheat winter pastures and slowing supplemental feeding. The freeze on March 25 likely damaged some of the wheat, but where there was no freeze, the wheat looked good. Corn growers were nearly finished planting. Farmers were planting grain sorghum, but were slowed by the recent rains.

Panhandle: Temperatures were all over the board, at first near average, then falling below average for a couple of days and then rising above average by week’s end. Soil-moisture levels were very short to adequate, with most counties reporting short to adequate. Producers were going full tilt preparing fields for planting. Those spreading compost and manure were finishing up, and commercial fertilizers were being applied with ground rigs and through the pivot systems. Wheat was in from very poor to good condition, with most areas reporting fair to poor. Greenbug and spider mite populations exploded with the warm, dry weather. Aerial applicators and ground rigs were busy as the weather permitted in trying to slow down these pests. Additional woes for the wheat crop were the frequent up-and-down temperatures, with some areas getting freeze damage. Cattle remained in fair condition. Cattle on wheat were making excellent gains.

Part of a Rolling Plains wheat field shows yellowing from freeze-injury, while other areas remain green, which signifies less or no damage. Typically wheat in low-lying areas of a field gets more cold injury during a freeze than wheat in higher spots, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomists. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Dr. Gaylon Morgan)

Rolling Plains: Parts of the region received from a trace up to 4 inches of rain, but most counties needed more moisture. Pastures were in fair to good condition, but with the past two years of drought, it was expected to be a while before they fully returned to normal. Livestock were also largely in good condition, but some producers continued to provide supplemental feed. In some areas, hay supplies were depleted, but producers planted wheat in hopes of harvesting it as hay to replace stocks. Some producers were debating whether to plant cotton or Haygrazer as they were concerned whether hay supplies will remain short and prices high. Damage from the March 25 and 26 freezes — when temperatures reached a low of 25 degrees — was showing up from scouting. It was still too early to tell the full extent of the damage. The peach crop was also damaged by freeze; some of the crop may have survived due to buds not being fully opened. Bluebonnets were blooming along roadsides.

South: Soil-moisture conditions were mostly very short, except for northern counties where they ranged from short to very short. Severe thunderstorms moved through the northern parts of the region, bringing strong winds but little rain. There generally was not enough rainfall to significantly improve soil-moisture levels, rangeland and pastures. In many areas, livestock producers continued reducing herds as the drought continued, grazing further declined and supplemental feed prices remained high. Some western counties received rain, from 0.5 inch to 2.5 inches in Dimmit County, 0.5 inch in Maverick County, and 0.5 to 1 inch in Zavala County. Though welcome, the rains were not enough to make a dent in drought conditions. In Maverick County, winter oats and wheat matured. In Zavala County, irrigators were able to put a temporary hold on watering cotton, sorghum, corn and cabbage because of the rain. Also in that area, cabbage harvesting was halted due to the rain, and livestock producers saw some pastures greening up. Frio County corn, potato and wheat fields were damaged by hail from the thunderstorms. In Jim Wells County, all corn was planted with 25 percent of it emerged. Also in that county, 75 percent of the sorghum crop and 50 percent of the cotton crop was planted. In Hidalgo County, growers continued harvesting sugarcane, citrus and vegetables, with the onion harvest being the most active. In Starr County, all dryland row crops continue to suffer from the drought.

South Plains: The region remained very dry with little to no rainfall. Some greenbug infestations and virus damage to wheat was reported, as well as freeze damage. Freeze damage was not expected to be significant because secondary tillers will compensate for the damage in most fields. Producers continued preparing fields for spring planting; some began to pre-water. Despite needing rain, there was some growth of warm-season grasses in low-lying areas because of prior rains. Cattle were in mostly good condition with producers supplying supplemental feeding on cold days.

Southeast: Brazos, Montgomery, Chambers, Fort Bend and Galveston counties all got rain, from 0.5 inch to 3 inches or more, helping crops, raising producers’ spirits and improving soil-moisture levels. In Burleson County, a freeze damaged small grains, and scattered showers and cooler temperatures slowed corn and sorghum growth. Fort Bend County temperatures ranged from lows in the 40s and highs in the 70s. Galveston County had short bouts of hard, heavy weather, including severe thunderstorms with hail damage. The warm temperatures in Orange County supported good forage growth.

Southwest: Widespread showers and thunderstorms brought 1 inch to 6 inches of rain, alleviating drought stress, and helping spring-grass growth and field crops. Farmers finished planting corn and were preparing cotton fields. Rangeland and pastures improved, but were still slightly below average and lacked adequate moisture for grass growth. As a result, livestock producers had to continue supplemental feeding of cattle.

West Central: Daytime temperatures were cool and nights cold. There were scattered light showers in isolated areas. Freezing temperatures may have done some damage to crops, but how much damage won’t be known for several days. Light freeze damage was reported noted on early, ungrazed wheat. In some areas, the freeze also set back pasture grasses that were trying to break dormancy. Most wheat crops had failed due to the ongoing drought. Grain sorghum planting was under way where soil-moisture levels permitted. Rangeland and pastures improved as grasses greened up and forbs emerged, but livestock producers had to increase supplemental feeding again. Stock-tank levels were critically low. Beef cattle numbers continued to decline as herds were culled due to the extreme drought conditions.


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