COLLEGE STATION — As temperatures begin to warm up after an extended cold spell, wheat producers in some parts of the state are going to have to make some hard choices, according to a Texas AgriLife Extension Service expert.
The record freezing weather caused only cosmetic damage to Rolling Plains wheat and will have little effect on yields,said Dr. Todd Baughman, AgriLife Extension agronomist based in Vernon.
“The big issue that we just didn’t get the snow we were expecting from either one of the storms,” Baughman said. “There’s a lot of this country that hasn’t had a significant rainfall since October.”
The late fall and winter is a usually drier time for the region, he said, but typically it will receive about an inch of moisture a month in one form or another.
Wheat in the region is grown for grazing and for grain. In an average year, 60 percent or more of the region’s producers will do both, graze during the winter, then pull cattle off and allow wheat to make a grain crop, he said.
The stands are surviving from earlier rains in the summer and early fall. But as the weather warms, the crop will start growing faster and require more moisture. Unless there is rain, a producer will have to make some tough management decisions or lose stands, Baughman said.
“One, he’s going to have sell cattle earlier than he would like, so they’re going to go in light (to market),” he said. “Or he’s gong to have use additional hay and feed to extend that grazing, which is going to add to the cost of gain. Or he’s going to have pull acres away from harvest. My guess is that all three of those things will happen.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Central: Bitter cold temperatures may have damaged wheat and oat crops. Producers were providing large amounts of supplemental feed to all livestock. Upcoming warm, drying conditions were expected help small-grain crops.
Coastal Bend: Below-normal, freezing temperatures were the rule for most of the reporting period. Field activities, including fertilizer applications, resumed as soils dried out. Corn growers were preparing to start planting soon. Due to loss of grazing, livestock producers continued to supplement cattle with forage and protein.
East: Most of the second week of February was cold with lows in the teens and highs below freezing. Some rain ice and snow was reported in many areas of the region. Hard freezes damaged some winter forages. Livestock were quickly depleting hay supplies. Some producers were bringing in alfalfa hay. Increased supplemental feeding costs this season were high. Warmer weather arrived at the end of the reporting period, and spring calving was under way. Feral hog activity increased in some pastures.
Far West: Most of the region was under a burn ban. Rangeland remained dry, and livestock producers were providing supplemental feed and large amounts of minerals to cattle. Winter wheat was damaged by a hard freeze. Fall-planted onions also suffered some freeze damage. Alfalfa that was coming out of dormancy was set back, and crowns were frozen. Pecan trees were still dormant but were also affected by the freeze.
North: The region had more than 100 continuous hours of below-freezing temperatures and 2 to 8 inches of snow. Soil moisture was mostly in the adequate range. Snowfall and ice accumulations were not as much as the previous week. A preliminary crop and livestock damage assessment was compiled early last week for the Farm Services Agency. As far as crop damage to small grains and winter pastures, it was felt there was some damage, but it was too early to tell as to what extent. There was worry about small grains, especially oats, being set back by the extreme cold. The cold weather froze the tops off the wheat. Otherwise, wheat was in fair to good condition, and farmers were top-dressing the crop with fertilizer in some areas. The bitter cold taxed the livestock, but most animals weathered the storms well, with just a few baby calves lost during the coldest nights. There was increased feeding of hay and supplements to livestock, and forage supplies were running very short. Livestock ponds received some additional moisture from the melting of the snow and ice, but chopping ice on the ponds was an everyday chore during the cold blast. Rangeland and pastures were in poor to good condition.
Panhandle: Temperatures were below average — in the single digits and below zero — for most of the reporting period. High winds and snow were the rule early in the week, but temperatures warmed to near average by the weekend. Snowfall ranged from a trace up to 11 inches. Extremely low temperatures caused many pipes, windmills and other water sources to freeze. Getting water to livestock became an issue. Wheat and rangeland was mostly in poor condition. Livestock producers supplied large amounts of supplemental feed to cattle. There were reports of some livestock deaths due to the extreme cold.
Rolling Plains: Another winter storm brought record low temperatures but not as much snow and ice as the first week of February. Some counties reported light snow, but high winds carried most of it away. Other counties reported they received substantial moisture, and the warmer temperatures during the latter part of the week allowed it to melt and soak into the soil. Throughout the region, cold weather and prolonged drought conditions severely limited the growth of winter wheat grazing, which required more supplemental feeding of livestock and dwindled forage inventories. The region needs more moisture and favorable weather to realize even a below-average wheat crop. Producers reported a few livestock losses because of the arctic storm, mostly calves birthed on the coldest mornings. Numerous counties were still under a burn ban.
South: In the northern and western parts of the district, dry conditions, extremely cold temperatures and hard freezes resulted in short to very short soil-moisture levels. Producers had to feed large amounts of hay to livestock. The eastern and southern parts of the region reported adequate soil moisture conditions but were still concerned with very dry rangeland and pastures and the resulting risk of wildfires. In the northern part of the region, growers were harvesting cabbage and planting potatoes. Some damage to cabbage was reported in the western parts of the region after a 24-hour-long hard freeze. No damage was reported on spinach and onions in that area, but dryland wheat and oats did show signs of severe stress. Also in that part of the region, producers began preparing cotton and cornfields. Some crop damage from freezing temperatures was reported on watermelons, peppers and leafy greens and potatoes. The harvesting of vegetables, citrus and sugarcane was active in that area. The only reports of livestock losses were goats in the southern parts of the region. Most cattle remained in fair condition.
South Plains: The arctic storm the second week of February brought from a trace of snowfall to 1.5 inches. On Feb. 9, the high was 25 degrees, the low 4 degrees, with winds peaking at 43 mph. Soil moisture was short. Winter wheat was in very poor to poor condition and continued to need moisture. Pastures and rangeland were in poor to fair condition with scant cool-season grass present due to dry conditions. Cattle were in mostly good condition and under continued supplemental feeding.
Southeast: Cold weather damaged winter annual grasses, vegetables and citrus crops. Producers were feeding large amounts of hay during cold weather. Warm and windy weather later in the reporting period was expected to dry fields and allow spring crops to be planted in a few weeks. Wheat was in fair condition.
Southwest: Four consecutive days of below-freezing temperatures damaged young spinach, onions and cabbage. It was too early to estimate the total damage done, but the tops of about 300 acres of spinach had to be trimmed off. Growers hoped spinach will re-grow and make a marketable crop. Some fields of young cabbage will have to be replanted. The cold weather interrupted that the harvesting of mature spinach and cabbage, but the cabbage harvest resumed by Feb 12. The region remained very dry, with total cumulative rainfall since Aug. 1 at about 35 percent of the long-term average for the same period. High winds aggravated the dry spell and increased the incidence of roadside wildfires. Fields were ready for early spring crops, but rain will be needed very soon for dryland plantings. Pastures and rangeland were in winter dormancy, and forage availability was below average. Ranchers were busy with the calving/lambing/kidding season. Livestock losses were low from cold weather because livestock producers were able to take some precautions before it arrived. Ranchers were working to repair damage to frozen livestock water-supply pipes.
West Central: The arctic storm brought sleet, snow and below-freezing temperatures. Some freeze damage was been reported, but damage assessments to plants and spring crops were not in yet. Wheat was in poor condition due to dry conditions and below freezing temperatures. Producers continued providing supplemental feed to livestock.