Wheat acres were expected to perform well in areas with moisture, but market conditions could mean tough decisions for grain producers, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.
Bill Thompson, AgriLife Extension economist, San Angelo, said there was concern Texas wheat acres would be down due to extremely wet fall conditions. However, National Agricultural Statistics Service data show planted acres across the state were level with 2018.
“North of Abilene, areas received 40 inches of rain in six weeks,” he said. “We were afraid a lot of farmers wouldn’t be able to get their fields planted. There may be individual farmers who didn’t get in, but it appears most did.”
Across much of the state, especially Southeast, Central and East Texas, producers also dealt with very tight windows of opportunity to plant wheat acres due to wet conditions.
On the other hand, wheat producers with stands should experience good growing conditions due to the full soil moisture profile, Thompson said.
Dr. Jourdan Bell, AgriLife Extension agronomist, Amarillo, said wheat conditions across the High Plains and Panhandle are variable. Early planted wheat was in good condition due to October rains, but dry to drought conditions expanded in recent weeks, which deteriorated wheat conditions.
“Ungrazed, irrigated wheat is in good condition,” she said. “Early planted wheat that has been grazed is looking bare. Cattle were pulled off many pastures early because there has not been the precipitation to sustain regrowth.”
Late planted dryland wheat is not progressing quickly, she said, and stands are very thin and becoming weedy. There were trace amounts of precipitation recently, and even small amounts of rain perked up wheat fields.
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Despite good growing conditions for much of the state, Thompson said 2019 could be a tough year for wheat growers eyeing profits in grain production.
U.S. acres are down 4 percent, and despite historically low planting in 2018, wheat prices have continued a downward trend, he said. Prices in Chicago have fallen 60 cents a bushel since Feb. 1 to around $4.60 per bushel from $5.20 per bushel.
Texas producers can expect prices to be even lower, $4.30-$4 per bushel, due to additional costs associated with getting grain to market, he said.
“If prices don’t change and producers are looking at $4 a bushel…that won’t get it done,” he said. “Our costs are more than that.”
Additional costs, such as treating for rust and other diseases, especially in wetter areas of the state, could squeeze margins even tighter, he said.
Thompson said wheat producers face a difficult decision of producing grain in the hopes that prices improve. Their other options are to graze out their fields and add pounds to cattle in the hope for better profits at beef markets or bale their wheat and hope for a few dollars more per acre in a low hay production year.
“It’s time for them to make that decision,” he said. “It could be that year where they can do better grazing it out or baling it because hay has been at a premium. They’re just going to have to look at their options and put a pencil to it.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
CENTRAL: Conditions continued to be wet. More rain was received, which made conditions even soggier. Winter grazing was green, but a lot of it was walked over and bogged down in mud. Ryegrass was coming on in some areas. Temperature changes, cold nights and warm days, created some respiratory problems for cattle. Fieldwork was at a standstill.
Corn farmers were waiting for warmer soil temperatures and dry weather. Only a few fields were planted so far. Wheat looked very good. Some wheat was at or near the jointing phase. Insect pressure was below the threshold for green bugs and bird cherry-oat aphid. Stripe rust was observed in a few fields as well as powdery mildew. Rust was below threshold, but a few fields needed to be treated for powdery mildew. Cattle remained in good condition and stock tanks were extremely full. Overall crop, rangeland and pasture conditions were mostly good.
ROLLING PLAINS: Temperatures warmed and conditions were windy. Cooler weather followed, but another warm-up was forecasted. Winter wheat was starting to look good throughout the district. Pastures and rangelands were in fair to good condition. Various cotton producers were still trying to finish their cotton harvest.
COASTAL BEND: Soil conditions were improving with drier weather conditions. Planting was off to a slow start with some corn and sorghum planted. There were still isolated fields with last year’s corn stalks standing. Pastures were beginning to green up with Bermuda grass and hay fields breaking dormancy. Winter weeds were becoming a problem in pastures in southern areas. Livestock were doing well but were still being fed hay and protein. Supplemental feeding should slow down soon if weather conditions improve.
EAST: Rainfall continued to soak already saturated fields. San Augustine County reported 3 to 4 inches of rain. Pasture and rangeland conditions were mostly poor to very poor. Most counties reported adequate subsoil and topsoil conditions. Winter wheat in Jasper County was in fair condition. Fields were muddy, and some had standing water. Ponds and creeks in Cherokee County were full. Most producers were having trouble accessing fields to fertilize or even to get hay out for livestock.
Winter pastures were looking better, and some producers in Sabine County moved livestock into the pastures for grazing. Some producers reported only two to four weeks of hay supplies, while some were out of hay and were supplementing with cubes. Grasses in Houston County were not up enough to supplement the extremely short supply of hay. Cattle were in fair to good condition with supplementation taking place.
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Cattle market numbers were mixed on different weight classes in Houston County, while sale numbers and prices were steady in Shelby County. Timber production in Anderson County was down due to wet conditions. Wild pigs continued to be a problem in Henderson, Wood and Upshur counties. Trinity County reported wild pig activity was the worst ever experienced, with pigs rooting up yards, cemeteries, golf courses and other locations.
SOUTH PLAINS: Producers were prepping for spring planting. Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels continued to be low due to high winds, lack of precipitation and warmer temperatures. Extreme high winds prevented fieldwork. A few areas received 0.3 of an inch of moisture, but conditions were still dry. Wheat was being irrigated. Cattle were in good condition.
PANHANDLE: Some areas reported very small amounts of snow and rainfall, but not enough to make a difference. Producers were waiting for rain. The winter wheat crop started to stress, and some producers started irrigating to improve grazing. Overall cattle conditions continued to decline, and supplemental feeding was required. Row crop fieldwork was underway for the upcoming corn planting season.
NORTH: Most counties reported adequate to surplus topsoil moisture. Continued rains across the district saturated fields and halted planting preparations. Hay supplies were short for some producers. Cattle were looking rough due to weather conditions and slow forage growth. Wild pigs were more active. Winter crops such as wheat and oats continued to look stunted with little growth for some producers, while others experienced decent growth.
FAR WEST: Daytime temperatures were in the low 80s with nighttime lows in the high 20s. No precipitation was reported. Wind advisories were in effect with gusts up to 40 miles per hour. Spotty fires were reported. Pastures showed some signs of growth. Winter wheat started to green up and take off. Grasses were beginning to break dormancy and green up.
Fruit trees were blooming. Planting preparations were ongoing. Water allotments for El Paso County were estimated at 25 percent. Most farmers will plant crops with crop insurance and keep water for pecan trees. Onion, winter wheat and oat acreage were very small.
WEST CENTRAL: The reporting period was relatively dry. Conditions were cool early and warm and windy late in the day. Cotton harvest was finally complete. Gins continued to process cotton, with expected completion in a few weeks. Winter wheat showed signs of breaking dormancy, with mostly good to excellent field conditions. Rangeland and pasture conditions were mostly good. Wheat and oat pastures were in good shape and providing good grazing for livestock. Livestock were in mostly fair to good condition with supplemental feeding.
SOUTHEAST: Livestock were in fair to good condition. Additional rains continued to delay preparations and plantings, except for a few acres of corn. In Walker County, the soil moisture conditions continued to be excessively wet. Cool nights and lower daytime temperatures slowed winter forage growth in later planted fields. Soil moisture was restricting some preparations for early spring vegetable gardening.
Brazos County finally received a few days of clear skies and some wind to start drying fields. In Grimes County, pasture conditions were starting to allow farmers and ranchers to prepare for spring; however, more rain was in the forecast. Rangeland and pasture ratings were fair to very poor with fair being most common. Soil moisture levels were adequate to surplus with surplus being most common.
SOUTHWEST: Some counties received a little rain here and there. Areas that remained dry were hoping rain in the forecast materialized. Corn was expected to be planted if field conditions were not too wet. Pastures and all plants were greening up. Livestock and wildlife remained in decent condition with supplemental feedings.
SOUTH: Northern and western parts of the district reported mild weather conditions with adequate to short soil moisture levels. Eastern and southern areas of the district were cool with adequate to short soil moisture. A few counties reported rain, and soil moisture levels were declining. Atascosa County reported inconsistent temperatures with cold and warm weather. Potato planting neared completion. Wheat fields were under irrigation and in good to excellent condition. Pasture and rangeland conditions were poor to fair.
Some areas, including Duval County, reported good pasture conditions with plenty of vegetation for cattle and wildlife. Livestock were receiving supplemental feed. Body condition scores were good. Spring green-up began in low-lying areas. Coastal Bermuda grass fields were still not producing bales. Producers were either preparing fields for planting or planting crops.
In Zavala County, producers planted some early corn. Spinach and cabbage harvests were very active. Ginning of cotton continued. Irrigation applications were made on spinach, onions and cabbage. Wheat and oats made good progress. Jim Wells County producers planted corn and sunflowers. Most producers were expected to transition into grain sorghum soon if the weather holds.