Central Texas wheat growers continue to have a challenging year, said Dr. Clark Neely, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service small grains specialist, College Station.
“There’s a couple of different stories going on now with wheat, the first being prevented (planted) acres in the Blacklands,” Neely said.
The region was dry all summer and going into the fall, then it started raining in October and hardly stopped until just recently, he said.
By some accounts, only 20 percent of the region’s planned wheat acres were planted, Neely said. Moreover, some wheat that did get planted early has spent much of its time since emergence in waterlogged soils or even standing water.
“Most of the rest of the state – like the High Plains and Rolling Plains — is in pretty good shape,” Neely said. “They’ve had plenty of moisture, but not so much that they weren’t able to get the crop in, though many acres were planted later than normal.”
Another issue for Central Texas wheat growers is volunteer wheat, he said. The region had a bumper crop in the works last spring. Then came record rains in April and May, resulting in head sprouting and heavy lodging. As a result many fields were zeroed out for crop insurance last year.
“So we had a lot of seed on the ground, and then it turned dry, and that seed did not germinate until the rains in October,” Neely said.
Wheat farmers are used to dealing with some volunteer wheat, he said. The common practice is to kill the spotty stands of volunteer wheat with a herbicide such as glyphosate before re-planting. In many instances, this year’s volunteer stands are much thicker.
“Because they either couldn’t get in the fields to spray it or because they couldn’t plant it, some farmers are going to attempt to take the thicker volunteer wheat to grain this year,” Neely said. “Theoretically, it can be done, but there are several concerns with taking volunteer wheat stands to grain.”
A lot will depend upon whether the volunteer wheat is a lodging-prone variety or one with pretty good straw strength and weather conditions, he said.
Another challenge wheat growers might face is rust, Neely said.
“Because we’ve had such a mild, wet winter, we could have another bad rust year,” he said. “It could be a problem for the entire state, but right now, we’re only seeing it around College Station.”
The spread of the disease will heavily depend on whether wet conditions continue through the spring, which is the current prediction. For the state, wheat acreage as a whole is estimated at 5.3 million acres this year, down 12 percent, he said.
“Part of the decrease is because of prevented plantings, but it’s also due to wheat prices being quite low right now,” Neely said.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Central: Soil moisture, rangeland and pastures were generally in fair condition across the region. Row crops were rated as being in fair condition. In a few areas, small grains were not in so good condition, having spider mites and aphid damage as well as nutrient deficiencies due to too much water. Fields remained wet and only limited work could be done. Some producers were able to topdress wheat, with a few applying anhydrous ammonia. But with clear and sunny weather forecast, farmers should be able to catch up on fieldwork. Corn acreage was expected to increase. Livestock were in good condition. Most orchard ground was dry enough for pecan producers to continue harvesting.
Coastal Bend: Wet conditions benefited some of the region’s winter pastures but prevented some farmers from preparing fields for spring planting or fertilizing. Cattle producers continued supplemental feeding of herds.
East: The region continued to be cold and wet. Subsoil and topsoil moisture were rated adequate in most counties. Pasture and rangeland were mostly in fair to good condition, with a few counties reporting poor or very poor. Trinity River levee breaches put 8,000 to 10,000 acres of land underwater. Producers were having trouble getting hay out of saturated pastures. Vehicles were sinking up to their axles if driven off roads. Small-grain cover crops were not doing well due to the warm temperatures and abundant rainfall. However, ryegrass was doing well. Livestock producers were feeding hay and supplements. Farmers continued to topdress winter pastures as field conditions allowed. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Spring calving was in progress. Weaning and selling of market-ready calves and cull cows continued. Producers were preparing bulls to turn out into herds by mid-February to early March. Area cattle market reports continued to be weaker than last year’s highs. Prices seemed to have stabilized. Feral hog activity on cropland and pastures increased as they left flooded creek and river bottoms.
Far West: Mild winter weather prevailed throughout the region. Nighttime lows were in the 30s, and daily highs were in the upper 50s to low 70s. Most producers were providing livestock with supplemental feed. Early calving herds began to calve. Rangeland and pastures were in poor condition. Topsoil and subsoil moisture were short.
North: Topsoil moisture varied from adequate to surplus. Though there was no further precipitation, fields remained saturated. Most fields of wheat, oats and winter annual pastures remained waterlogged. It was estimated that only about 11 percent of the total wheat acreage was planted last fall due to heavy rains. What was planted was put in late and has, for the most part, been standing in water since. Most producers who usually graze cattle on small grains pulled herds off to keep them from rutting up the fields so badly. This meant more hay and supplements had to be fed. Wide temperature swings continued to stress livestock. Respiratory issues, especially with confined youth project animals, continued to be common. Feral hogs became more active.
Panhandle: Though no new moisture fell across the region, producers were still waiting for fields to dry out. In most areas, wheat was in good or fair condition thanks to plentiful moisture and warmer temperatures. However, there were reports of some wheat yellowing. Pastures were in good condition, but livestock producers were still providing supplemental feed. Cattle on wheat pasture were gaining well. Spring calving began in the eastern part of the region.
Rolling Plains: Winter moisture boosted the growth of grass and forbs in rangeland and pastures. Winter wheat was also looking promising, with soil moisture sufficient to last through the spring. Cotton harvesting, however, was largely still on hold for several weeks because of the wet conditions. Some producers were getting back into fields to finish up harvesting cotton, while others found conditions still too wet for machinery. Cotton yields were about average for the area, but with low cotton prices, many producers were questioning planting cotton again this year. Livestock were in good condition with some supplemental feeding continuing. During the holidays, producers were forced to feed on a daily basis due to the heavy snows and frigid weather.
South: Mild daytime and cold nighttime temperatures continued throughout the region. Soil moisture was mostly adequate. In the northern part of the region, potato and wheat planting continued in Frio County. Range and pastures conditions declined after a frost. In McMullen County, Bermuda grass pastures had heavy weed pressure. Supplemental feeding was steady, and some cow-calf herds began to calve. Body condition scores remained mostly fair. In the eastern part of the region, rangeland and pastures were in excellent condition. Producers were preparing fields for planting. In Zavala County, the weather was favorable for cool-season crops such as spinach, cabbage and onions. Cabbage harvesting continued, as well as light spinach harvesting. Livestock producers were providing light supplemental feed to cattle on native rangeland and pastures. In the southern part of the region, spring planting continued, and harvesting of fall corn and vegetables was ongoing. In Hidalgo County, growers were harvesting citrus, sugarcane and vegetables. In Starr County, fall vegetable crops progressed well.
South Plains: Cochran County soil moisture levels were rated as adequate. Producers were preparing fields for spring planting. Pasture and rangeland were in good condition. Floyd County had warmer weather that helped fields dry out and benefited wheat. Garza County also experienced a warming trend with highs mostly in the 50s to 60s. The cotton harvest in Garza County was nearly finished. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in good condition, as were cattle. Ranchers were providing supplemental feeding on cold and damp days. Lubbock County had mild weather for the week – except on Jan. 21 when 52 mph winds brought a trace of rain. Lubbock area wheat showed some leaf burn from recent cold weather. Subsoil moisture was very good. Only a few cotton fields remained to be harvested. In Mitchell County, cotton harvesting was ongoing with lots of fields full of cotton. Yields were beginning to drop on the delayed-harvest fields as cotton was falling out of the bolls. Scurry County had warm and dry weather for the week.
Southeast: Soil moisture throughout the region varied widely but was mostly adequate to surplus, with adequate being the most common. Fort Bend, Lee and Brazos counties reported 100-percent adequate levels. Hardin and Walker counties reported 100- percent surplus. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, mostly from fair to poor, with fair ratings being the most common. In Walker County, the moisture levels continue to hold. Pasture conditions were looking good with warm weather. Cool-season crops that weren’t drowned out were doing well, though there were some reports of fungal issues. In Brazos County, temperatures fluctuated between warm and cool, which limited forage growth. In Grimes County, conditions were suitable for fieldwork. The weather in Hardin County continued to be wet, and pasturelands were saturated. There was also a lot of standing water throughout the county. In Montgomery County, field conditions were still very wet. Cold weather late in the week stressed livestock. Hay supplies were still good. Fort Bend County livestock were in good condition. Row crop producers were able to do fieldwork in preparation for the upcoming crop year.
Southwest: Weather patterns remain largely unchanged, with temperatures about normal for this time of year. Mornings were cool with some frost and occasional heavy fog. Rangeland and pastures were in good shape. Pond levels were high. Livestock generally were in average condition. There was ample forage for sheep and goats, as well as fairly high-quality grass stands for beef cattle.
West Central: The region was cool and windy. Nights were cold, and daytime highs were in the 50s and 60s. Subsoil moisture remained very good. Cotton growers were finishing harvest. Some were still unable to get into fields due to wet conditions and needed a few more warm, dry days to finish. Cotton ginning was ongoing. In some areas, wheat emerged but needed warmer weather to grow. In others, it had come along enough to allow grazing. Other small grains were slowly growing. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to good condition as winter forbs and grasses grew well. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. Cattle prices remained down, but sheep and goat prices were steady. Supplemental feeding of livestock further increased. Yearling cattle on grain were doing very well.