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Agriculture Today

A disastrous year for Texas wheat

A disastrous year for Texas wheat
Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo by Robert Burns Not all dryland wheat is at risk, but much of the crop has been abandoned to crop-insurance adjustors due to the ongoing drought.

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April 27, 2011
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COLLEGE STATION -- Wildfires continued to break out in many areas, but even without fires, wheat farmers were feeling burned, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

With dry conditions, heat, and wind, the crop continues to deteriorate, according to Dr. Mark Welch, AgriLife Extension economist specializing in grain marketing and policy.

“It’s bad and getting worse,” Welch said. “It looks like the 2011 crop, in terms of production and yields, is going to look like the 2009 crop -- perhaps even as bad as the 2006 crop; just disastrous wheat years in Texas.”

This year’s poor crop comes on the heels of a bumper crop in 2010. Also, wheat prices are at record highs, he noted.

Texas Crop and Weather Audio Report for April 19, 2011:

“This year’s crop condition ratings show about 40 percent of the Texas crop in very poor condition, which compares with 65 percent very poor in March of 2006 and 53 percent very poor in May of 2009,” Welch said.

On an average year, Texas farmers will produce 100 million bushels of wheat, but this year it looks like it’s going to be a third of that, he said.

Much but not all dryland wheat is at risk, though there are areas, such as the Winters area between San Angelo and Abilene, along U.S. Interstate 35 in Blacklands, that “look pretty good,” Welch said.

Irrigated wheat is a different story, Welch said. In an average year, about 20 percent of Texas wheat crop is irrigated. The higher wheat prices should compensate the higher pumping costs irrigators are facing due to the drought.

But in many areas, farmers have given up on dryland wheat. Many have already accepted crop-insurance adjustments, according to reports from AgriLife Extension county agents. Where possible, farmers were putting cattle out on wheat, hoping to offset pasture and rangeland grazing lost to the drought or wildfires.

As of the morning of April 19, the Texas Forest Service reported there were 20 uncontained fires from previous days. The largest uncontained fire was in Stephens and Palo Pinto counties, estimated to have burned 147,000 acres to date. Other fires near Possum Kindom Lake, Caddo, and Strawn are smaller in acreage, but have burned 31 homes. Another 600 homes were at risk.

Of the state’s 254 counties, 198 were under burn bans as of April 18, according to the Forest Service.

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Southwest District, including Wilson, Gonzales, Guadalupe, and Bexar counties, reported the region remained completely dry, with close to 50 days since the last rain of about 0.2 of an inch. Year-to-date cumulative rainfall (as measured in Uvalde) was only 0.55 of an inch, compared to a long-term average of about 3.7 inches for the same period. San Antonio, which is under a similar dry spell, entered into Stage 1 water rationing. Hot weather with mid-afternoon temperatures in the low 90s and high, dry winds increased the risk of roadside and field fires. Spring wheat, under irrigation, made good progress, but dryland wheat turned brown and died. Irrigated corn, sorghum, sunflower, and cotton fields also made good progress. Other spring dryland crops will also probably fail. Growers were harvesting cabbage, lettuce, and spinach. Onions, cantaloupes, watermelons, green beans, potatoes, and sweet corn were all doing well under heavy irrigation. Pastures and rangeland remained brown and dormant. Forage availability was below average.

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Coastal Bend District, including Karnes County, reported that dry conditions persisted. Most areas were several inches behind on rainfall with none in the forecast. Crops needed moisture. High afternoon winds further dried the already parched earth around the plants, taking a toll on potential yields. Most final plantings were put on hold as producers waited for rain. Many farmers lost their first cutting of hay due to lack of rain. Ponds were very low. Livestock producers continued to feed hay. Cattle, swine, sheep, and goat prices were at an all-time high.

Compiled from Texas A&M University and Texas AgriLife Extension Service reports.

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