Millions of acres of Panhandle wheat in fair to good condition
Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE STATION – Despite roller-coaster variations in temperatures, an ongoing drought, and a shortage of preferred varieties, most Texas High Plains wheat is in fair to good condition, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
“Late freezes in the spring of 2013 and other weather conditions limited the amount of available seed produced of preferred varieties, particularly AgriLife Extension’s ‘Pick’ varieties,” said Dr. Calvin Trostle, AgriLife Extension agronomist in Lubbock.
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“Those Pick varieties were sometimes spread over more acres at a slightly reduced seeding rate,” Trostle said. “But management keys like suitable planting date, irrigation and timely top-dress nitrogen applications in late winter 2014 will help compensate for lack of availability of preferred wheats.”
Though there were some crops other than wheat planted in place of the preferred varieties, by far, most farmers turned to alternative wheat varieties: those shown by AgriLife Extension and Texas A&M AgriLife Research variety trials as possibly not performing as well on irrigated or dryland acres as the Pick varieties, he said.
Winter wheat is a very large and important crop in the Texas High Plains. In the Texas Panhandle region alone, total acreage often exceeds 2.5 million acres, Trostle said.
“A large proportion of the winter wheat is grown solely for grazing or dual-purpose uses—grazing plus grain. But wheat for grain produces the greatest value,” he said.
There was some late-planted wheat, but late-planted wheat can still do well if it has enough warm days to get it up and growing, he said.
“Delayed planted wheat will have very slow emergence in some cases, particularly if they planted after early November,” he said. “I think overall, that most of our grazing wheat is in better shape, because it was planted earlier and was well-established before recent freezing weather. Some late wheat for grain will grow slowly over the winter, but if we have a wet spring, then that all changes for the better very quickly.”
Though some might be concerned about the effect of this year’s unusually cold weather on the wheat crop, Trostle isn’t, he said, at least for wheat grown for grazing.
“If we have 70-degree days, and all of sudden it goes down to 25, that’s hard on anything, plants or animals,” he said. “But remember, wheat is a cool-season crop. It’s adapted to this kind of thing. We could certainly have some modest injury over the winter if it’s excessively cold, but if the tillering is in place, when things warm up in the spring, it comes to life, and sometimes we might forget how maybe it didn’t look very good back there in December and January.”
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:
Central: Most counties reported adequate soil moisture, and rangeland and pastures were in fair condition. Overall, crops and livestock were in good condition. Livestock producers were putting out lots of hay and feed in anticipation of very bad conditions. Hay was being sought to grind and make a filling ration when combining with corn and other commodities. Winter pasture was slowly coming on. The rains were very helpful to finish crops out for the year. Most of the winter wheat crop was emerged, and in many cases the young plants were mature enough that another cold front did not damage them. Some wheat was being grazed. Livestock producers began supplemental feeding. The extra moisture made farmers optimistic about spring plantings. Small grains looked very good.
Coastal Bend: All fieldwork, including the harvesting of hay and ratoon rice came to a standstill due to rain and cool temperatures. With continued moisture, winter pastures were expected to continue to improve. The recent cold snap forced livestock producers to provide supplemental feed. Ryegrass pastures were progressing well. Goliad County reported its first freeze on Dec. 7.
East: Another cold front pushed through the region, bringing freezing rain and colder temperatures. Livestock were in good condition, though the wet and extremely cold weather was hard on them. There was some flooding in low-lying areas. Penning and moving conditions were poor for working cattle, which resulted in fewer cattle being taken to auctions. The fall calving season was well underway. Most livestock producers were feeding hay and supplements. Wet conditions prevented producers from turning cattle into winter pastures to graze. To have done so would have caused the cattle to trample the standing rye and winter wheat into the ground. Pond water levels were higher in some areas than they have been in several years. Most small to medium size lakes were full. Feral hog activity continued. The pecan harvest was hampered by wet conditions.
Far West: A hard-hitting cold front rolled through the region, bringing a trace to 0.5 inches of moisture and dropping temperatures into the upper 20s for two days. Harvesting of what cotton had not been picked was halted due to the weather. Alfalfa and warm-season forages became dormant. The pecan harvest was about 15 percent done. All mesquites are now 100 percent defoliated. Producers were providing supplemental feed to cattle.
North: Soil-moisture levels continued to remain adequate, with a few counties reporting surplus conditions. Temperatures changed drastically during the week; 80s turned into low 20s overnight, and an ice storm caused power outages and difficult conditions for winter feeding. This put livestock in stressful conditions as most of the winter pastures were too wet to utilize. Livestock producers were providing supplemental feed to cattle. The weather put a halt to all farming activities, but nearly all small grains had already been planted and were emerged. Feral hogs continued to be a problem in Morris County.
Panhandle: Temperatures started out near normal for the week, but by mid-week temperatures dropped into the single digits in most areas, with wind-chills below zero. Soil-moisture levels were mostly very short to short. Producers were still harvesting cotton after the storm of last week. Very little cotton was harvested this week due to the weather. What was harvested was being taken to the gins. Winter wheat planting was ongoing. Dryland wheat suffered from lack of moisture. Some winter wheat likely had freeze injury. Rangeland and pastures continued to be rated mostly very poor to poor. Some livestock were showing signs of sickness due to the extremely cold conditions.
Rolling Plains: Summer temperatures early in the week allowed farmers to return to the cotton harvest after the earlier ice and snow storm. Just as producers were getting into a good harvesting rhythm, winter struck with a vengeance in mid-week. Temperatures dropped sharply within a few hours, and rain, sleet, and snow brought everything to an immediate halt. Roads became covered in ice and snow within a few minutes. From 4 to 6 inches of snow was recorded. On a positive note, the storm did bring some much-needed moisture. Farmers expected to be back in the fields as soon as soils dry out. Livestock producers were forced to step up supplemental feeding and ice breaking as pastures and rangelands remain covered in ice and snow. Livestock were in good condition. Winter wheat wasn’t looking very promising before the storm, but producers hoped it will benefit from the moisture. Livestock water sources were critically low in many pastures.
South: A cold front moved through the region, bringing light rain and dropping temperatures. Shorter days and longer nights kept soil-moisture levels mostly adequate but slowed forage growth in rangeland and pastures. In the northern part of the region, soil-moisture levels ranged from 100 percent adequate in Atascosa and Frio counties to 40 percent short in parts of Kleberg and Jim Wells counties. In the western counties, soil-moisture levels remained about 95 percent adequate. In the southern counties, soil moisture was 50 to 70 percent adequate. In Atascosa County, the wet, cold weather slowed peanut harvesting. In Frio County, peanut crop harvesting continued, and wheat and oats were in good condition. Kleberg County producers were applying herbicides and fertilizers in preparation for next season’s crops. Cold temperatures in Jim Wells County resulted in most field activity halting. In Starr County, fall vegetable crops were progressing well.
South Plains: Roller-coaster weather continued to be the rule. Highs ranged from the mid to upper 70s early in the week down to teens and twenties over the weekend. Another arctic cold front on Dec. 4 brought freezing drizzle, rain, sleet, snow and fog. Snow and ice accumulations varied widely, but were enough to bring all harvest operations to a halt. Everyone hunkered down for about three days. What little moisture was received was appreciated, but the ice wreaked havoc on cotton, causing fiber to fall out of the bolls. It also hurt winter wheat. Livestock were stressed, and producers were forced to break ice and provide supplemental feed.
Southeast: Most of the counties reporting had rain and cooler weather, which slowed down warm-season forage growth. However, most pastures still had adequate grazing for livestock. Rainfall ranged from 1 inch to 2 inches. In Waller County, recently harvested round bales were still in the fields as conditions were too wet to haul them out. The excess moisture also reduced gathering and hauling cattle to sale barns. Soil-moisture levels throughout the region varied widely, mostly in the adequate range, from 30 to 80 percent surplus. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, even within counties, from poor to excellent, with fair to good ratings being the most common.
Southwest: The weather was cold and damp. A few counties reported from 0.25 inch to 4 inches of rain along with freezing precipitation. Lows were between 20 and 40 degrees, with wind and icy rain. Wheat and oats looked great, and producers turned stocker cattle out to graze on some fields. What winter wheat planting that was left was mostly being done in dry corners of irrigated fields. Summer grasses went dormant for the winter. Overall, rangeland and pastures were in good condition. Stock-water tanks were full and looked good. Livestock producers were providing supplemental feed through the extremely cold, damp days. The pecan harvest continued with light yields reported.
West Central: Warmer conditions early in the week allowed the cotton harvest to proceed, but the cold front that came later halted the harvesting with freezing rain and icy conditions. Some un-harvested cotton might have been damaged by ice, but producers won’t be able to tell until later in the week. Soil-moisture levels remained adequate in most areas. However, all areas needed more moisture to fill stock tanks and for optimum small-grain growth. The cold weather helped already planted wheat. Most wheat was in fair to good condition, though some fields were showing signs of moisture stress. The sunflower and sorghum harvests were completed. Limited grazing of small grains continued. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. Livestock producers increased supplemental feeding to prepare cattle for the winter. The pecan harvest was ongoing, with good quality but light yields.