The Texas wheat grain crop faced a number of challenges this season from extreme weather to disease, but the overall expectation is that acres will produce average or slightly below average yields, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Fernando Guillen, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension statewide wheat specialist, Bryan-College Station, said this growing season was particularly unique due to drought or excessive rains in parts of the state and an extreme winter storm.
Texas producers planted 5.5 million acres of wheat this season, down slightly from last year, Guillen said. High grain prices could translate into good outcomes for growers this season and increase interest in wheat and potential plantings next season.
A June 20 wheat status report by AgriLife Extension reported harvest was 58% complete and that 24% of the crop looked good to excellent, 44% looked fair and 32% looked very poor to poor. Harvest was slightly behind schedule due to wet conditions.
“In general, we’re expecting average to just below average yields for producers,” he said. “Last year, yields were below average with few exceptions, and this year there were fields that experienced major losses, but conditions are as sporadic as the climatic patterns across the state this season.”
Tough start for Texas wheat
Drought was prevalent in much of the state early in the growing season, Guillen said. Precipitation in major wheat production areas like the High Plains, Southern Plains and Blacklands was erratic throughout the season due to La Niña weather patterns.
In the High Plains area, irrigated wheat performed fairly well, while dryland fields were subject to a lack of moisture to varying degrees across the region, he said.
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“The gradient of water and temperatures could be vastly different from location to location throughout much of the season,” he said. “For example, the southwestern area of the High Plains was for the most part hot and dry, while the northeastern area received more rain during the season.
“In the Blacklands region, soil moisture was sufficient at planting, but then conditions were dry during flowering, a critical time when plants need moisture the most, and then relentless rains set in and delayed harvest and caused other losses late in the season. But despite all that, it appears the crop will deliver average to just below average yields.”
Guillen said warmer, drier conditions were a challenge for good stand establishment for wheat, especially in those instances when the crop was intended for dual purpose, forage production and grain. Lack of moisture can prevent germination and limit growth, and warmer temperatures during early growth can impede vernalization – the accumulation of cold units that propel plants into the reproductive stage.
The impact of the unprecedented cold front brought by Winter Storm Uri early in February on wheat fields, which were exposed to temperatures in the teens and single digits for days, was less severe than expected, Guillen said. Wheat is a winter-hardy crop, but there was concern among AgriLife Extension specialists and producers that the extreme freezing conditions might devastate much of the planted acres in Texas.
Wheat varieties display a range of winter hardiness, in general they can tolerate temperatures in the 20s for short durations of time, Guillen said. The concern was that although plants were still at the tillering stage of growth, with their growing point still under the ground, the levels and duration of low temperatures caused significant damage to the crop.
“Losses would have been significant if the crop had been a little farther along in its development. But overall, the survival chances were high,” he said.
The cold front delayed maturity of the crop to some extent, as it took some time for the plants to recover from the severe freeze, Guillen said.
Rough late season for some producers
The crop was also exposed to disease pressure as well, mainly stripe rust and leaf rust. Stripe rust affected the crop a bit later than usual in the season, but for the most part producers were proactive with their spraying.
Weather changed for much of the state in May as prolonged rains delivered moisture to much of the state with exception of southwestern parts of the High Plains, Guillen said. These rains helped the crop progress in some parts of the state but caused losses in areas saturated by deluge.
In the Blacklands, South Texas and parts of the Rolling Plains, Guillen said there were reports of sprouting grain heads and lodging due to wet conditions and producers’ inability to access and harvest their fields.
“Producers were vigilant with their wheat fields this season because they knew there was opportunity with such high grain prices,” he said. “Some likely caught timely rains and avoided delays to their management and harvest schedules and their fields performed well, while others were expecting a good crop after a questionable start to the season just to face relentless rains during the maturity stage of the crop.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Small grain harvests resumed. Growers were reporting declining wheat grain quality following weeks of wet and humid conditions. Low levels of sprouting were widely observed which degrades quality and marketability. Some remaining oat fields were left for grazing. Second hay cuttings were underway, and quality was good. Hay yields looked impressive.
Corn kernel shrinkage was showing up due to denitrification losses of nitrogen fertilizer. The prevailing hot and dry conditions will likely hamper effective nitrogen fertilizer application and plant utilization. The overall impact of these nitrogen losses on poor kernel fill and ultimate yields will be unknown until harvest.
Cotton was rapidly developing in the recent heat and recovering from soil saturation, however some fields were stunted and showing delayed squaring. Reports of thrips and flea hoppers in cotton were widespread. Sorghum crops were lush and mostly at coloring stage. Some aphid spraying occurred. Rangeland and pasture conditions and stock tank levels were excellent.
Conditions were hot with some scattered rains reported. Multiple rainfall events over the past six weeks caused wheat conditions to decline as farmers were unable to access fields for harvest. Wheat harvest was complete in some areas with reports of 25 bushels per acre up to 100-plus bushels per acre.
Contract harvesters left some areas due to wet conditions leaving most wheat acreage for local harvesters to complete. Cotton planting was way behind schedule but increased lately as conditions dried. Pastures looked excellent. Cattle looked good and were grazing on wheat and pastures, and calves looked to be gaining weight.
Corn and sorghum conditions were fair. Producers were busy harvesting hay as conditions improved enough for equipment to access meadows and pastures. Sudan grass was almost ready to cut.
Summer heat and humidity intensified with some areas reporting scattered rain showers. Cotton continued to suffer from wet conditions. Some rice acres were not expected to be planted due to excessive soil moisture. Portions of the district reported corn fields stressed by rainfall reacted positively to the recent hot, drier conditions.
Corn and grain sorghum were maturing and should begin drying down soon. Hay was cut and baled in fields that dried out. Rangeland and pasture conditions were good to excellent. Livestock were in good condition, and auction sales started to pick up again.
Producers began cutting and baling hay as soon as they were able to access pastures and meadows, and hay production was finally in full swing but many bottomland meadows were still too wet for equipment. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to excellent. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate.
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Many vegetables and fruits were being harvested. Livestock were in good condition. Horn fly populations continued to be high. Armyworms were being reported across the district. Wild pig activity continued with reports of damage to hay meadows and pastures.
Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels were holding following prior heavy rain events. Producers continued to irrigate and finish plantings. Cattle were in good condition.
Soil moisture levels were short to adequate throughout the district. Winter wheat, pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good. Wheat harvest was underway, and hot, dry conditions were helping. Corn conditions were mostly good with some excellent conditions in southern parts of the district.
Oat, cotton, sorghum, soybeans, and peanuts were all in good condition. Dryland crops and rangeland conditions were expected to decline soon without moisture.
Topsoil moisture was adequate. Temperatures were in the low- to mid-90s. Those temperatures and 10-12 mph winds dried the soil enough for some wheat and hay harvesting. Producers were busy trying to get the late first cutting out of fields.
Corn looked good in early planted fields. Late-planted corn lacked uniformity due to ground moisture. Grain sorghum stands were inconsistent as well. Beans and cotton looked decent. Summer grasses were thriving and growing well. Livestock were in good condition.
Daytime highs were in the low- to mid-90s and exceeded 100 degrees, with evening lows in the high 60s to lower 70s. High temperatures were drying up the soil too fast and forcing farmers to irrigate. Extreme heat and wind continued to dry rangeland and pasture conditions leading to higher wildfire dangers.
Trace amounts of scattered rainfall were reported, but rangeland conditions continued to deteriorate. Peanuts were planted and almost all cotton acres were in. Some peanuts were coming up, and some cotton had emerged as well. Beef cattle producers continued to work calves. Livestock was in overall good condition across the district despite drought, but grazing was very limited. More rainfall will be critical for livestock and crops.
Some of the district received a little rain, but most areas remained dry. Drier conditions allowed wheat harvest and cotton planting to resume. Hay harvest was underway as well. Rangeland and pasture conditions were good following recent rains. Insect problems were increasing in fields, gardens and landscapes. Livestock were in good condition with steady to strong markets. External parasites were becoming a problem in cattle.
Several heavy rain showers in Chambers County left water standing in pastures. In Walker County, there was no rain which allowed good conditions for hay production. Most hay harvest was behind schedule due to wet field conditions. Pasture and rangeland conditions varied from very poor to excellent, but many areas continued to improve.
Conditions were warm and humid across much of the reporting area with very little rainfall. Pastures and rangeland were in good condition. There were some reports of armyworm infestations and some pesticide spraying. Corn and sorghum were in good condition.
Kinney County reported wheat fields were harvested with average to slightly above-average yields. Livestock and wildlife were in fair to good condition. Caldwell County reported that cattle, sheep and goat prices were steady.
Hot and dry conditions with high heat indexes continued. Soil moisture levels were adequate in most areas, but some areas were very short on moisture. Hot conditions were depleting soil moisture. Temperatures were over 100 degrees with the heat index reaching 110 degrees in several areas. Some brief rain showers were reported.
Jim Wells County reported up to half an inch of rainfall. Rainfall was in the forecast for some areas. Hay was cut and baled, with good yields reported. Warm-season grasses were growing. Pasture and rangeland conditions were good, but areas were improving or declining based on moisture levels. There were some reports of armyworms in Bermuda grass fields.
Peanuts were planted and early planted fields were entering the pegging stage. Cotton was developing quickly and was squaring with some early planted field blooming and/or setting bolls. Insect pressure in cotton was low. Corn fields were entering denting stage and drying down.
Sorghum continued to put on seed, and early planted fields were turning color. Midge were reported in some blooming sorghum fields. Sorghum and sunflower food plots looked good, though some dryland sorghum fields were not expected to make seed.
Livestock and wildlife looked good, and body conditions were improving weekly. Stock ponds were replenished by recent rains. Some livestock producers continued to provide supplemental feed.
Irrigated watermelons and cantaloupes were in good condition. Citrus orchards continue to show signs of recovery. Some producers took advantage of programs designed to help them uproot and replace dead trees.