Winter wheat crop in trouble
With very dry conditions setting in, most winter wheat stands are already severely stressed.
“We had one of the driest Octobers on record in Texas, and essentially no rain at all in November,” said Dr. Travis Miller, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service program leader and Texas A&M University soil and crop sciences associate department head. “Most stands are still hanging on, but they can only do that for a little while with the amount of rainfall we got.”
Over the last week of September, much of the state was fortunate to get enough rain to plant winter wheat and get it emerged, but with the exceptionally dry October and November, growth has been limited and stands are at risk.
Most Texas wheat was planted late September through mid-November, with about 6 million acres planted, according to Miller. Typically, 55 to 60 percent of the crop is grazed, and the remainder is just planted for grain. But a lot of the wheat was planted on about 1 inch of rain in the topsoil, with no deep soil moisture because of the 2011-12 drought.
For a number of reasons, the loss of wheat stands would create substantial hardships for producers, he said. One, hay barns were emptied during the 2011 drought, and many cow/calf and stocker producers need winter wheat for grazing to carry livestock through the winter.
Another frustration is that 2011 was economically devastating for many producers, and historically high wheat grain prices promised some great returns on investment. And wheat futures are likely to get even higher, as Oklahoma and western Kansas wheat growing conditions are not good.
As for grazing, if producers haven’t already gotten good growth for early grazing, they’re not likely to, Miller said.
“The reason we get good growth on fall-planted small grains is warmer temperatures and longer days, and as we get into cooler temperatures and shorter days, growth drops off,” he said. “October is usually a great month for small grain growth.”
But the story of wheat grown for grain is far from over, according to Miller.
“We can still make a decent wheat crop -- don’t be mistaken about that,” he said. “If we can just keep the stands alive through the winter, and if we get some snowfall or rainfall in the spring, then it can come around.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for the week of Nov. 12-19:
AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Southwest District, including Wilson, Gonzales, Guadalupe, and Bexar counties, reported dry, windy, and cooler conditions continued. Without rain, soils were drying up considerably. Rangeland and pastures continued to decline, with dormancy coming on. However, livestock remained in good condition as available grazing was still plentiful. The pecan harvest continued. Winter wheat planting was ongoing, and a good amount of hay was still being cut.
AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Coastal Bend District, including Karnes County, reported most areas are experiencing below-normal temperatures with very little rain. Soils remained extremely dry, which discouraged farmers from applying fertilizer. The pecan harvest was ongoing, with good quality reported. Some areas reported ryegrass, wheat, oats, and clover for grazing looked very good, and that hay supplies were sufficient. The ratoon rice harvest was winding down. Field preparations for next season’s crops continued under favorable weather, but rain will be needed before planting in early 2013.
AgriLife Extension district reporters for the South District, including Atascosa County, reported dry and windy conditions were the rule for the entire region during most of the week, with 40 to 100 percent short to very short soil-moisture levels in all counties. A cool front moved across the northern counties early in the week, bringing light rains, but not enough to improve soil-moisture levels. In Atascosa and Frio counties, wheat and oats were in good to fair condition. All crops were planted, and nearly all emerged.
Robert Burns has nearly 30 years’ experience writing about agriculture and agricultural-related research. He writes about Texas AgriLife Research and Texas AgriLife Extension Service activities at the Overton Center and centers in Stephenville and Temple.