Texas crop, weather: Wheat better than anyone hoped in areas

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COLLEGE STATION — Much of Texas wheat looks better than anyone expected a few months ago, said a Texas AgriLife Extension Service agronomist.

“It’s been a very interesting year,” said David Drake, San Angelo. “It started out dry everywhere. Farmers had to plant wheat with faith that it would actually come up.”

Last winter, climatologists were forecasting the winter and early spring would be drier and warmer than average because of a strong La Niña, Drake noted.

The year did turn out to be warmer. Lubbock, for example, recorded the second-warmest March on record.

But despite the forecasts, many areas received substantial rains. In some cases, such as North Central Texas, the spring was much wetter than average. The moisture, in combination with the above-average temperatures, resulted in excellent growing conditions for wheat, Drake said.

Not everyone benefited, he noted. Some farmers, expecting unfavorable weather, cut back on fertilization and other inputs, and may have even seeded at lower rates.

“It put us in a situation where farmers who did not cut back on inputs are going to be able to capitalize on those potential yields,” Drake said. “Those farmers who applied enough fertilizer, used a decent seeding rate and didn’t cut corners – they’re going to do alright. They’re going to get a bumper crop in some areas.”

In other areas, cutting back on inputs may have been the right plan. Drake noted large parts of the Panhandle and Far West Texas are still moisture-deficit.

Overall, Drake said his best guess at this time was that total yield for the state was likely to be average, though it was far from being an average year weather-wise. He noted, however, that even on an average year it’s hard to predict statewide grain yield as wheat is a multi-use crop. This year, more farmers than usual may be baling wheat for hay to rebuild stocks.

Wheat planting was up in 2012 to 5.8 million acres with 4.4 million intended for grain harvest as of March 30, Drake said.

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/ .

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for April 2-8:

The 12 Texas AgriLife Extension Service Districts.

Central: The severe weather last week brought a combination of rain, wind and various amounts and sizes of hail. Dairy operators were harvesting small grains for silage. Bermuda grass pastures looked fair with some stand loss, but most well-managed fields were expected to recover. Crops, including wheat and oats, were doing well. The condition of livestock and wildlife improved because there was enough water and good food sources for both. Daytime temperatures were considerably higher than average. More livestock producers were restocking herds. Most were spraying for wheat rust or scouting for armyworms. There was quite a lot of hay being made from wheat, oats and over-seeded Bermuda grass pastures. Corn and milo planting was nearly complete, but the recent rains slowed cotton planting. Some cotton already had emerged.

Coastal Bend: Weather conditions were ideal for most spring agricultural activities. Row (hyphen) crop farmers took advantage of drying fields to get most grain sorghum, soybeans and cotton planted. In some areas, crops still needed rain. Cool-season forages such as rye and clover began to mature. Some cattlemen were bailing cool-season grass for hay. Livestock producers were working cattle, and reported a healthy calf crop. Reports of bloat on lush clover pastures continued to come in.

Far West: Most of the district had windy, dry conditions. Ector County reported isolated showers, with less than 0.1 inch of rain. Parts of Val Verde County received from 0.3 inch to 1.7 inches. Presidio County reported sprouting of toxic weeds. Because of hay shortages, most cattle remained on supplemental feed and were using large amounts of minerals. Rangeland and pastures remained in bad to poor condition throughout the area. Winkler County reported the risk of wildfire was high, with large fuel loads of dead, dry grass. In Crane County, a wildfire burned about 900 acres of ranchland. Some alfalfa, wheat and oats were cut in Andrews County. In Glasscock County, farmers began early melon planting and pre-watering of cotton fields. El Paso had above-normal temperatures in the mid to high 80s with lows in the upper 40s. Fall-planted onions were at eight-leaf stage and making bulbs. Pecans were breaking buds. Farmers were taking the first cutting of alfalfa.

North: Soil moisture was adequate to surplus after strong thunderstorms and tornadoes (tornadoes) rolled across the region, dropping lots of rain and hail. Assessment of damage to crops and livestock was in progress. The rain held back the final corn plantings. It was estimated that about 80 to 85 percent of corn planting was completed. Farmers planned to plant grain sorghum and early maturity soybeans soon. Warm-season forages began to emerge due to warm nighttime temperatures and rain. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Insect populations increased.

Panhandle: Dry, windy conditions and above-average temperatures continued in most of the region. A few isolated areas reported receiving scattered showers. Soil moisture was mostly very short to short. Wheat was mostly in poor condition. Farmers continued field preparations for spring planting. Rangeland and pastures were in mostly very poor to poor condition. Ranchers were still providing supplemental feed to cattle.

Rolling Plains: Some counties received really heavy rain and high winds, with small hail falling in some areas. Some wheat was knocked down, but due more to rain and wind than hail. Other counties remained dry. Many pastures were in good condition and producing quality grazing for livestock. More rain will be needed within the next few weeks for grasses to continue to grow. Most winter wheat producers were bailing to replenish depleted hay supplies. A lot of wheat was cut and waiting to be baled when the rain came and will probably have to be raked again to allow it to dry and cure. Cattle on wheat pastures were in good condition, as were those that were moved to rye pastures. Ponds and livestock tanks remained low, but with a few more good rains, levels should increase back to normal. Cotton farmers have begun listing fields in hope of planting soon. They have booked seed for this year’s crop and have a positive outlook as soil moisture was good. Soil temperatures were nearly high enough for planting.

South: Some northern counties received light showers. La Salle County reported as much as 2.5 inches in some areas, which improved soil moisture from short to adequate levels. Daytime highs about 90 degrees had dried out topsoil by the end of the reporting period. Rangeland and pastures improved thanks to the rain and high temperatures. More rain was needed, however, for pastures to fully recover from the 2011 drought and to fill livestock tanks. As calving season continued in McMullen County, the body condition scores of cattle continued to improve with good grazing supplies and some supplemental feeding. Corn and sorghum crops in Atascosa and Frio counties were growing well and in good condition. In Jim Wells County, producers were planting sorghum and cotton. Most already-planted fields emerged and were showing good stands. In Zavala County, crops were doing well, except for some with insect pressure, such as cabbage. Also in that area, cotton planting was completed, the harvesting of cabbage continued, and growers were establishing watermelon and cantaloupe transplants. In Cameron County, cotton, grain sorghum and corn all progressed well with ample moisture. In Hidalgo County, hail damaged some watermelon, corn, grain sorghum and potatoes on March 29. Watermelons were the hardest hit. Also, the harvesting of sugarcane, citrus and vegetables continued in that area. In Starr and Willacy counties, spring row crops were doing well, with Starr County producers were harvesting buffelgrass for hay.

South Plains: The region remained dry, with above-average wind and temperatures, and below-average rainfall. More producers were drilling wells in order to be able to pre-water fields in preparation for spring planting. In some counties, insurance adjusters were evaluating failed winter wheat. Pasture and rangeland improved for awhile thanks to earlier light rains, but that green up was mostly gone. Supplemental feeding continued.

Southeast: Brazoria County received 2 inches of rain. There was some hay being harvested where fields had dried out. Rice planting was active. Some areas remained too wet. More grain sorghum and cotton planting was expected as fields further dried out. In Chambers County, rangeland remained in very poor condition because of salt-water inundation from Hurricane Ike in 2008. In Liberty County, rains improved the condition of pastures and row crops. Farm ponds were filled to overflowing. Livestock producers were able to reduce supplemental feeding because of improved pasture conditions.

Southwest: Temperatures were slightly above average for early April. Lambing and kidding continued. Farmers were expected to start planting soon, and were spraying for weeds and fertilizing pastures. Wheat and corn made good progress. Cotton planting was under way.

West Central: Days were very warm with cool nights. High winds were drying out soils, and growing conditions declined. Producers continued to spray for weeds and apply fertilizers. They were also plowing in preparation to plant summer forages. Grain sorghum and cotton were to be planted soon. Some planting was already under way. Cotton farmers were not optimistic. Wheat was beginning to decline due to lack of moisture. Some small-grain fields were being cut and baled for hay. Rangeland and pastures continued to improve in some areas, but weeds were an issue. Warm-season grasses were slow to emerge. Some stands were being choked out by heavy weed pressure. Cattle producers were restocking herds as pastures improved. Bloat continued to be the biggest problem for cattle producers due to heavy clover growth. There was very little need for supplemental feeding of livestock because grazing conditions were very good. Pecan trees leafed out. The pecan crop looked strong.


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