Texas crop, weather for April 29, 2014

Worst freeze damage to wheat was from Abilene to San Angelo

In this picture taken in Runnels County on April 22, the white wheat heads show clear evidence of  damage from a hard freeze a week earlier. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Dr. David Drake)

In this picture taken in Runnels County on April 22, the white wheat heads show clear evidence of damage from a hard freeze a week earlier. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Dr. David Drake)

Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, rd-burns@tamu.edu

COLLEGE STATION – Two weeks after the late hard freezes of April 14-15, reports of wheat damage from around the state were “pretty close” to what was expected, with most damage occurring in the Central and West Central regions, said Dr. Clark Neely, AgriLife Extension small grains and oilseed specialist, College Station.

Temperatures in the Panhandle and Rolling Plains stayed mostly in the mid-20s, and based on reports from other AgriLife Extension specialists and county agents, wheat there was not as advanced in growth and, therefore, not as likely to have been damaged as it was in the Central and West Central regions, Neely said.

Though the temperatures in Central and West Central regions were higher, hovering around freezing, wheat there was flowering, a growth stage when the crop is most susceptible to freeze damage, he said.

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“There’s been some spotty reports of freeze damage in parts of the Blacklands between Dallas and Hillsboro,” Neely said. “I looked at a field north of Hillsboro on Thursday last week (April 22). There was a slope on the field, and at the bottom of the hill, about 50 percent of the heads were blank or sterile; at the top of the field, maybe 10 percent were sterile.”

He also heard, he said, reports from Bosque County that a few fields had been completely wiped out, but there were a lot of fields in the same area that didn’t have any damage.

“But I expect the worst damage may be from Abilene to San Angelo,” Neely said. “Dr. David Drake, our agronomist in San Angelo, was touring the area this weekend looking at fields, and it was worse than what he expected. A lot of white heads in the fields.”

In extreme cases, where it gets cold enough, damage can be very obvious as the seed heads will be bleached completely white, he said. But the signs of a sterile head can be less obvious than whitening. Upon closer examination, it may be found there’s no seed at all in the head or the head may be disfigured.

“It’s much harder to tell early on,” Neely said. “Sometimes, you can tell on how the anthers look. Typically, if they’re damaged, they will be shriveled or discolored. But really, the best way to know is just to wait and see if the seed develops or not.”

Also, it’s not sufficient to tell from just looking at the field from the road, he said.

“In the Hillsboro case, the entire field looked green and the heads looked fine. But when you went into the field and started peeling back the glumes, you could tell no seed was developing.”

There was also damage in the South Plains, parts of which actually got colder than the more northern Panhandle.

However, in many dryland fields, freeze damage was secondary to yield losses already inflicted from the drought, Neely noted.

Most of the wheat in Texas is typically planted in the Panhandle, followed closely by the Rolling Plains and the South Plains. The West Central region and Blacklands also contribute substantial acreage, but to a lesser degree, according to Neely.

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 the week of April 21-28:

The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Districts

The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Districts

Central: Most counties reported good soil moisture, as well as overall crop and pasture conditions. Crops and livestock were also listed as being in good condition. The region had a few scattered showers, but high winds dried topsoils and much more rain was needed. There were reports of the mid-April freeze killing Bermuda grass down to the ground, setting it back two to three weeks. Some farmers were replanting sunflowers, grain sorghum and corn. Cotton planting was in full swing. Water levels in stock tanks and rivers remained high. Hay cutting began in some counties. Rangeland and pastures were starting to show some improvement. Warm-season grasses looked decent but needed rain. Some producers were still feeding hay to cattle.

Coastal Bend: The region did not receive any rain, and with high temperatures and winds, forage conditions were greatly diminished. Temperatures reached triple digits during the weekend for the first time this year. Row crops were starting to suffer. Rice planting was completed. Wheat was drying down and getting close to harvestable. Corn was in the eight- to 10-leaf stage and in good condition. Sorghum was about 6 inches tall. Pecans showed promise, but needed moisture soon. Stock-water tank levels were dropping, which meant supply problems for cattle might come earlier than normal.

East: Some counties reported topsoil drying out due to the windy conditions, but low-lying areas still had excess moisture. Producers began cutting and baling ryegrass for hay. Some were putting up cool-season forages in conventional bales, while others and some were putting it up as “baleage” – baling it in large round bales, wrapping them in plastic, and allowing the grass to ferment like silage. Warm-season grass growth improved with warmer temperatures. Wheat was slow to recover from excess moisture and cold weather. Corn emerged and looked good. Vegetable planting was in full swing. Timber harvesting seemed to be increasing. Cattle were in good condition, with spring calving about half finished in some areas. Horn flies were becoming a problem for livestock producers. Feral hogs were on the move, causing extensive damage to pastures and hay meadows.

Far West: The region was hot and windy, with temperatures in the 90s. Some areas received from 0.5 to 0.75 inch of rain early in the week. Jeff Davis County reported hail accompanied the rain, and that it knocked leaves off of trees and bruised emerging grasses. Wheat was showing signs of damage from the April 14-15 freeze. Cotton farmers continued planting. About 70 percent of cotton was planted, with 10 percent emerged. Alfalfa was re-growing after the first cutting, and pecans were at the pollination stage. Fall-planted onions were at the halfway bulb stage. Most producers were either finished with spring branding or wrapping up. A few later calving herds will be likely be worked later this spring. Many producers were still feeding cattle. Stocker cattle were doing fair, though variable weather seemed to be hampering gains. Some peaches and apples had buds nipped back by the frost.

North: The region received about 1 inch of rain for the week, and topsoil moisture in most counties was adequate. Warmer temperatures greened up pastures. Winter wheat looked good across the region thanks to the sunshine and rain. There were a few reports of wheat heading out. Hunt County reported corn, grain sorghum and soybeans were progressing well. There were a few reports from Collin, Franklin, and Grayson counties that the April 14-15 freeze may have damaged corn. Some producers think it will be alright because it was killed above growth point, but in some cases plants weren’t recovering. Most cattle producers stopped feeding hay and supplements as pastures greened up. Camp County reported more wild hog damage.

Panhandle: Temperatures were near average most of the week, warming to above average by the weekend. Dry and windy conditions continued, with gusts as high as 50 to 70 mph. The winds stripped more moisture from the ground and blew large amounts of topsoil out of fields. Some areas received rain. Collingsworth County received about 3.5 inches of rain in isolated areas, while most of the county remained dry. Generally, area producers were busy preparing for spring planting, pre-watering, and applying fertilizers and preplant herbicides. Deaf Smith County reported that though winter wheat was doing well under irrigation, but many acres of dryland wheat were already written off by insurance adjusters. There was also significant leaf burn and stem damage to wheat from the April 14-15 freeze. Otherwise, the crop was generally holding its own with little head damage or premature death. Rangeland and pastures continue to be rated mostly very poor.

Rolling Plains: Moisture from the previous week’s rain was lost due to the drying effect of high winds. Winds were in excess of 50 mph, and the sky was tinted dark brown with blowing dust. Some counties received as much as 2 inches of rain, but subsoil moisture still remained limited. Wheat freeze damage really started showing up about a week after the April 14-15 freeze. Damage appeared light for about five days, but later appeared to be significant. One county estimated 50 percent losses. Later-planted wheat seemed to be fine, but there was concern about heads filling out. Some wheat farmers had already called their insurance adjusters, while others may cut the crop for hay. Pastures and rangelands were nearly played out, leaving only very minimal grazing left for livestock. Ranchers were considering selling off more cattle due to lack of grazing. Town residents were also feeling the stress of the drought as water prices rose, along with more restrictions on water usage.

South: Temperatures rose into the upper 80s and 90s throughout the region, and no significant rains were reported except for one western county. In the northern part of the region, high winds dried out soils and delayed fieldwork, and short to very short soil moisture continued to be the rule. Potatoes were turning color as harvest neared. Winter wheat, corn, grain sorghum and cotton were doing well. Stock tank water levels continued to drop, and supplemental feeding of livestock was ongoing. Atascosa County reported 100 percent of winter wheat headed, 91 percent of the corn emerged and 92 percent of sorghum planted. In the eastern part of the district, dry and windy conditions were also the rule. Soil moisture varied from short to adequate. Nearly 5,000 acres of row crops were damaged by hail in Jim Wells County. Grain crops are doing well in the Kleberg and Kenedy counties, but additional moisture was needed in the next two weeks to keep the crop in good condition. In the western part of the region, farmers were planting sorghum, some for forage and some for grain. Coastal Bermuda grass was doing well in that part of the region. Temperatures in the mid to upper 90s continued to dry out rangeland and pastures. Those with irrigation capacity continued applying water to all crops as hotter and drier days continued throughout the week. Spinach harvesting was active; cabbage and onions were doing well; and no insect pressure was reported on corn, cotton or pecans. Throughout the southern part of the region, soil moisture remained short to very short except for 50 to 55 percent adequate levels in Willacy County. Farmers continued irrigating sorghum and corn. Hay baling continued, row crops were progressing well, and there was some sugarcane aphid damage reported in Starr County. Rangeland and pastures remained in fair condition, as did livestock, throughout the area.

South Plains: Arid conditions, high temperatures and blowing dust continued to be the rule for the region. Winds gusted as high as 58 mph in Lubbock County on April 27, with daytime temperatures reaching into the low 90s. Lubbock County also reported significant damage to winter wheat from freezing temperatures on April 14-15. Sorghum planting began. Most producers were pre-watering in anticipation of planting cotton in May. Pastures continued to suffer from lack of moisture, and very limited grazing was available for livestock.

Southeast: Soil moisture throughout the region varied, with most counties reporting it to be adequate, while Galveston County was 100 percent very short. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, from very poor to excellent, with good to fair ratings being the most common. Brazoria County received 1 inch to 2 inches of rain, helping row crops and pastures. Chambers County finally became conducive for growing rice and promoting forage growth. Dry conditions in Montgomery County continued, stressing warm-season grasses, plants and animals. In Walker County, soils were drying out, but pastures still looked good. Waller County had its first hay cutting. In Brazos County, producers were cutting ryegrass for hay.

Southwest: Hot, dry windy weather persisted across the region, drying out soils and depleting stock-tank water. Plants were beginning to show visible signs of drought stress. Livestock remain in fair condition as rangeland and pasture conditions remained fair to good – despite the dry weather. Cool-season grasses began to mature. Field preparation and planting was slowed by the weather.

West Central: The region had warm days and cool nights. Isolated light showers were reported early in the week, but very dry, windy conditions continued to be the norm, and there was no relief in sight from the extreme drought. Wildfire dangers remained very high. Winter wheat in some areas was severely damaged by the late-season freeze. Wheat and oats were in poor condition, with yields expected to be well below average. Haying and grazing of small grain fields was underway as fields were released by insurance adjustors. Some farmers were planting summer forages. Most grain sorghum was planted and emerged. Other producers were waiting on a rain before planting dryland crops. Rangeland and pastures improved somewhat as warm-season grasses and forages came out of dormancy, but moisture was needed soon to sustain any growth. Stock tank water levels remained critical. The condition of livestock slowly improved. Supplemental feeding of livestock slowed in some areas. Spring livestock work continued. Flies were becoming a problem as weather warmed.


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