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Texas Field Reports: Conditions Cause Concern for High Plains Corn Producers

Ernst Undesser
By Adam Russell, Texas AgriLife Extension October 17, 2017

Texas Field Reports: Conditions Cause Concern for High Plains Corn Producers

Corn producers in the High Plains wait out wet weather and potentially problematic conditions as global commodity market conditions worsen for U.S. producers, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

Dr. Jourdan Bell, AgriLife Extension agronomist, Amarillo, said rain has been a complication for corn farmers in the region.

Significant rains have prevented producers from accessing fields, and wet conditions were slowing corn dry down in preparation for harvest. Rain has also led to high levels of fusarium, or ear rot, in corn. The state is also testing aggressively for the mycotoxin fumonisin, which can be deadly to animals, in those corn fields, she said.

“Fusarium is the mold that releases fumonisin mycotoxin, which is why there have been concerns about mycotoxins in High Plains corn,” she said.

Dr. Mark Welch, AgriLife Extension state grain marketing economist, College Station, said the quality of the corn will determine whether corn from those fields can be consumed. Corn from those fields have historically provided feed for beef cattle in the region, but there is also demand from a growing dairy industry there.

“The mycotoxin tolerances established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are lower for dairies than in beef, and they have to make sure the corn has low enough levels of mycotoxin to go to either,” he said. “It’s been so wet that there’s widespread concern, but it’s too early to say because there hasn’t been a major harvest push because farmers can’t access fields.”

Welch said grain production overall was down, as producers switched to cotton. Texas corn acreage was down 400,000 acres to 2.1 million acres compared to 2.5 million acres in 2016.

Overall, Texas corn was on pace for a good year, he said. Earlier-planted fields in South Texas performed very well.

“Moisture was adequate and there wasn’t excessive heat early,” he said. “It looks to be a good corn year for most of the state.”

Prices could still be problematic for producers, Welch said. Early problems in domestic corn — drought in the western Corn Belt and excessive rain in the eastern Corn Belt – meant low expectations, but USDA reports for October indicated those fields recovered.

International competition could add volatility to grain prices, he said. Argentina and Brazil have combined to export more corn than the U.S. over the last several years, and South American corn offers U.S. export customers an alternative source of supply given transportation costs, variable exchange rates and overall relations tied to trade agreements and international cooperation.

“The U.S. has long been the leader in the corn market,” he said. “We are the world’s No. 1 producer, user and exporter. But having Argentina and Brazil combine for such a big crop increases competition.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

CENTRAL: Armyworms were in every small-grain field and most Bermuda grass fields. Thousands of acres were sprayed. Pecan harvest started, but will ramp up on earlier varieties like Pawnee soon. Cotton harvest was drawing to a close. Livestock were in good condition. Winter grasses were almost all planted. Temperatures were warmer than normal for October. Most counties reported good soil moisture. Overall crop, livestock, and rangeland and pasture conditions were good in most counties.

ROLLING PLAINS: Cooler weather arrived. Armyworm issues were reported by several counties and spraying continued. More heat units were needed for cotton to finish up. Harvest should begin in the next couple of weeks. Pasture and rangeland responded well to recent rains. Livestock were in good condition with plenty of grazing. Winter wheat fields looked promising, and producers don’t expect to move cattle to wheat fields any time soon.

COASTAL BEND: Hot and humid weather conditions prevailed with no rainfall. Soil moisture conditions were beginning to decline. Wheat, oats and ryegrass were planted for winter pastures. Ratoon rice crops were doing well. Some cotton was salvaged after the effects of Hurricane Harvey.

Picking the top third of the plants that didn’t get flooded was yielding 1.5 bales per acre. No beans flooded by the storms were salvageable. Early pecan varieties were starting to open. Fall armyworms were being treated in winter pastures. Some hay was cut and baled. Field work resumed with drier weather.

Cattle were in very good condition with unseasonably good rangeland and pasture conditions. Cattle prices remained steady.

EAST: Temperatures were above normal, and drought conditions worsened in most counties. Subsoil conditions were very short in Cherokee, Houston, Marion and Shelby counties. Topsoil conditions were mostly short with very short conditions in Cherokee, Gregg and Shelby. Gregg County had extremely dry soil conditions. Cherokee and Marion counties were under a burn ban, and Anderson County reported small wildfires due to dry conditions.

Panola County warm-season grasses continued to decline in nutritional value, and the lack of moisture hampered the planting of cool-season grasses in Gregg County as well. Hot conditions in Houston County stopped grass from growing altogether. Smith County pastures needed rainfall for germination. Hay harvests wrapped up in Cherokee, Smith, Wood and Upshur counties.

Jasper County reported excellent growing conditions. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good in most counties with Cherokee and Shelby counties reporting poor conditions. In Harrison County, cattle chased acorns due to short forage conditions. Cherokee County standing forages in hay meadows and pastures began to show significant signs of drought.

Anderson County small grains were dusted in and wheat was about 40 percent planted. Houston County cotton was completely harvested while Anderson County bolls were only 80 percent open. Anderson County corn and sorghum was completely harvested. Fall vegetables were irrigated in Anderson and Marion counties. Good numbers were reported at sale barns in Shelby County with prices holding steady, but cattle markets in Gregg and Houston counties were lower.

Anderson County producers continued feeding supplements, and Marion County producers started feeding hay. Wood County continued to be plagued by wild pigs. Wild pig activity in pastures and meadows were higher than previous years in Cherokee County. Anderson County reported horn fly activity was up. Weed control was an issue in Upshur County. Smith County farmers dealt with assorted disease and insect issues, especially caterpillars. Houston County dealt with large numbers of flies.

SOUTH PLAINS: Conditions remained dry with temperatures ranging from 35-90 degrees. Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels remained adequate. Cotton bolls started to open, and harvest was expected to begin soon. Much-needed sun helped cotton to gain some days of fiber development after cold temperatures. Some dryland cotton acres were sprayed with harvest aids.

One county had its first bales of cotton stripped and ginned. Sugarcane aphids were reported in area grain fields, and mycotoxin fumonisin was found in area corn fields. The warmer, drier temperatures allowed farmers to resume corn, sorghum, peanut and pea harvests. Winter wheat was planted and continued to mature. Rangelands and pastures remained in good condition.

PANHANDLE: Temperatures were slightly above average for most of the district. Some moisture was received and soil moisture was mostly adequate. Armstrong County rangelands were looking good. Cotton was taking moisture and cool weather hard, with many fields’ bolls barely opening.

Sorghum was maturing, but low yields were expected. Wheat was thriving, but there were still many acres left to plant. Corn producers were just now starting back to harvest, but mycotoxin levels were a concern at area elevators.

NORTH: Rains were received with amounts ranging from half an inch to 3 inches. Temperatures were cooler. Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels ranged from mostly adequate to short, with some counties reporting very short. Cotton harvest continued, and yield reports were very good with most fields averaging around 2 bales per acre. Corn and soybean harvests were near complete and were averaging the best yields in several years.

Pastures were showing signs of stress and some ranchers were beginning to feed hay. Producers were starting to plant winter annual pasture grasses. Cattle were doing well, and the spring calves were weaning nicely. Hay supplies were good this year. Hay quality was not as good as it should be due to a very wet summer, which did not allow hay producers to harvest at the proper maturity state. Fall armyworms were reported in some pastures.

FAR WEST: Temperature highs were in the 90s with lows in the 40s. Rain amounts for the reporting period were one-tenth of an inch to 1.5 inches. Cotton harvest started to pick up steam. More acres were being defoliated, which will keep harvest moving. Fall armyworms were found in young wheat and increasing in numbers but were being treated. Mosquitos and flies were an issue as were weeds due to the recent moisture.

Irrigated pecan orchards looked to yield normal amounts. Pawnee pecan harvest began in the El Paso area. Pima and upland cotton fields looked very good, and harvest was expected to start within the next couple of weeks. Final irrigations were applied to some pecan trees, alfalfa, and Sudan grass. Producers continued to feed livestock and wildlife.

WEST CENTRAL: Weather was very seasonable with warm, dry days and cool nights. All areas needed rain. Stock tank levels continued to decline with some reaching critical levels. Field work continued for planting preparations. Small grain planting was in full swing. Insect pests were increasing in small grain fields. Armyworms were causing problems in all areas.

Producers were applying insecticides where necessary. Some producers had to replant wheat destroyed by armyworms. Cotton was being sprayed with harvest aids, and some fields were stripped. Cotton harvest was expected to begin over the next few weeks. Rangelands and pastures remained in fair to good condition.

Grasses and forbs responded very well to recent rains and warm days. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. Spring calves were weaned and shipped. Cattle markets continued to be strong. Pecan crops remained in good condition. Reports showed yields should be very good. Pecan harvest started in some areas.

SOUTHEAST: Livestock were in good condition. Hay producers were cutting and baling the likely final cutting as temperatures started to cool. Row crop producers were finishing field work and applying dry fertilizer. Soil moisture was drying and wasn’t replenished by the few scattered showers. Soil moisture levels throughout the region ranged widely from adequate to very short with adequate being most common.

Cool-season forages needed moisture to continue germination and maintain growth. Temperatures were too high to plant winter pasture. Cooler temperatures in the forecast should allow planting activity to begin and livestock will appreciate the much-needed cooler weather. A cold front in Lee County brought temperature highs to the 70s. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely, from excellent to very poor, with good ratings being most common.

SOUTHWEST: The region received traces of precipitation accompanied by a cool front. Wheat and oats were planted. Some producers cut hay. Some armyworms were reported in small grain fields. Winter pastures looked good while other rangeland and pasture conditions improved slightly. Livestock conditions remained fair to good.

SOUTH: Scattered showers were reported in areas within the district. Starr County reported 2-3.5 inches of rain. Some areas did not receive rain but maintained good soil moisture from prior precipitation. Temperatures were mild and cooling. Cotton harvest wrapped up in some areas. Cotton gins in Zavala County continued to operate around the clock. Peanut harvest was in full swing. Forages were being bailed.

Peanut digging started, but the majority of the crop was being irrigated and prepared for digging. Wheat planting started. Pasture and rangeland conditions continued to improve due to recent rainfall and adequate soil moisture levels. Buffel grass pastures responded very well to recent rainfall. Fall armyworm activity was prevalent and caused damage on hay fields and Bermuda grass pastures. Body condition scores on cattle continued to improve.

Watermelons, cantaloupes and other vegetables were almost finished. Spinach planting continued while cabbage made satisfactory progress due to the cooler temperatures. Pecan harvest was still about 10-15 days out. Wheat and oats responded well to cooler temperatures. Livestock were doing well. The live cattle market was more aggressive with buyers paying above-average prices.

Ernst Undesser
By Adam Russell, Texas AgriLife Extension October 17, 2017