Texas crop, weather for April 15, 2014

Freeze puts large swathes of Texas wheat at risk of freeze injury

A field of wheat shows signs of yellowing, a common symptom of freeze damage. In this field, the symptom did not appear for a more than week after a late freeze in April 2013. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

A field of wheat shows signs of yellowing, a common symptom of freeze damage. In this field, the symptom did not appear for a more than week after a late freeze in April 2013. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

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

COLLEGE STATION – Sub-freezing temperatures on the morning of April 15 put large acreages of Texas wheat at risk for freeze injury, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Temperatures were not as low in the Panhandle and Rolling Plains — mostly in the mid-20s — and wheat there was not as likely to have been injured as in the Central and West Central regions, said Dr. Clark Neely, AgriLife Extension small grains and oilseed specialist, College Station. This was because the wheat in the Panhandle and Rolling Plains was not as far along in development.

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However, in isolated areas of the South Plains, temperatures dropped into the mid-20s to upper teens — a temperature that poses a high chance of damage at or past jointing, Neely said.

“Based upon what I’ve seen, looking at the weather map and reports from around the state, I would anticipate potential freeze injury anywhere from the Waco to Dallas area and westward to the Concho Valley and San Angelo area,” he said. “Primarily because that’s where the crop was flowering, and flowering is when the crop is most susceptible to freeze damage.”

Wheat across the state is one to two weeks behind in development due to a cooler-than-normal spring and the drought, and that is a good thing when it comes to late-spring freezes, Neely said. Most Texas High Plains wheat was still in the jointing stage.

Generally, when wheat is flowering, freeze damage can occur when temperatures are as high as 32 degrees and stay there for two hours or more, he said.

It was very “touch and go, and flirting with the freezing mark” in those central parts of the state, Neely said.

Many other factors come into play, such as soil moisture, plant-moisture content, whether it’s windy or calm, and the terrain of the field.

“Wind can be good or bad, depending upon how cold it gets,” he said. “If it’s a still night, the cold will settle down in the low-lying areas. So it’s good in the sense that wind keeps the air stirred up, but it can also spread freeze damage across a wider area.

“Unfortunately, one county over — or even one field over — there can be a degree difference. Anytime you get down to that 32-degree mark, it gets kind of tricky with flowering wheat. Farmers will really have to be scouting their fields and pay attention to what the weather conditions were like.”

Neely doesn’t expect realistic evaluations of the extent of freeze damage to the crop earlier than one week, perhaps two.

“It really depends upon the weather after the freeze. If it becomes hot and dry, we’ll see symptoms a lot sooner. If it stays cool, it’ll take a little bit longer for those symptoms to show up.”

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 week of April 6 – 13:

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 overall on rangeland and pastures. Crops and livestock were also in good condition. Widespread showers early in the week halted fieldwork and replenished topsoil moisture, but there was no significant runoff to stock tanks or lakes. Wheat, oats, corn and grain sorghum also benefited from the rains. Pastures improved, and winter supplemental feeding was slowing down. Livestock were in good condition. Pecan trees were budding.

Coastal Bend: Dry and windy conditions were reported throughout the district. Corn, sorghum and cotton emerged and made good progress. Cotton was in the cotyledon stage, where embryonic first leaves were emerging, while most grain sorghum plants were 2 to 4 inches tall. Producers were running rotary hoes to stop soil from blowing. Most corn and grain sorghum fields had excellent stands and were looking good. Winds hampered herbicide spraying and dried out topsoils. Pecan producers were monitoring for pecan nut case bearers. Some ryegrass was baled for hay.

East: Most counties reported from 1.5 to 4 inches of rain. Pastures and hay meadows were in good condition, though low-lying areas were too wet to work. Some pasture grasses were late to come out of dormancy due to the cold winter and the wet conditions. Pastures that were growing had cattle hustling for the new green growth, leaving hay virtually untouched. Warm-season grasses were slow growing due to cool nights. Producers prepared for the haying season by controlling weeds and getting ready to fertilize. Spring cattle work was underway. Producers were selling fall-born calves for a premium. Livestock were in good condition. Feral hog damage remained a problem in pastures and hay meadows.

Far West: Hot, dry windy conditions were the norm for most of the week. Area farmers continued listing fields in an effort to keep soils from blowing. Farmers were working pre-irrigated cotton fields to hold moisture and get ready for planting. The first cutting of alfalfa was nearly ready. Pecan growers were irrigating orchards for the first or second time. Fall-planted onions were in the six-leaf stage and growing. Several ranches had ample forage supplies from last year, but if high temperatures continue without rainfall those forage supplies were expected to quickly diminish.

North: A line of storms brought from 0.5 inch to 4 inches of rain to some counties, bringing topsoil moisture back to adequate in many areas. The storms also brought high winds, a tornado and some hail. Collin County reported the storms may have damaged nearly 1,000 acres of wheat and oats in parts of the county. However, the rain helped small grain fields, pastures and row crops. Hunt County fields were made inaccessible due to rain. Livestock were in good condition, and sale-barn cattle prices remained higher than normal. Camp County reported further damage by feral hogs. Honeybees were swarming in Titus County.

Panhandle: Temperatures were near average most of the week, and above average by the weekend. The region continued to be dry, with soil moisture very short. Windy conditions caused soil erosion and raised the risk of wildfire. Producers across the region were preparing for spring planting. In Deaf Smith County, producers were pre-watering corn ground and irrigating winter wheat. Pre-emergent chemicals were being applied, as well as fertilizer, on earlier plantings of corn. Randall County reported that even irrigated wheat was suffering from the dry conditions. Dryland wheat was mostly non-developed and not expected to reach harvest. Some cotton and sorghum fieldwork was ongoing, but not much more will be done unless an adequate rain is received. Only irrigated corn acres will likely produce a harvestable crop, with majority of that going to ensilage. Rangeland and pastures throughout the region were in poor to very poor condition. Producers continued to provide supplemental feed to cattle on rangeland.

Rolling Plains: Though the weather was very pleasant, conditions remained dry across most of the region. Highs were in the mid-80s to low-90s. However, freeze warnings were issued for the week starting April 14. This was a concern as trees and plants were budding – even mesquite was budding. Farmers and ranchers were more concerned about the lack of moisture than the cold front. Soil moisture was at or near zero in some areas, and rangeland and pastures were showing signs of moisture stress. Winter wheat played out, and producers were forced to pull cattle off and look for grazing elsewhere. With the continued drought, there wasn’t any grazing at all in some counties, and producers were considering selling off remaining cattle. Hay supplies were nearly depleted as producers continued to supply supplemental feeding daily. The prospects of wheat grain yields were dropping every day. Without rain very soon, there was little hope for yields even close to average. Pastures were greening up, but the green-up would be short-lived if weather remained dry. Cotton producers were preparing irrigated land for planting, while dryland cotton producers were waiting on a change in the weather. Fighting blowing sand became a seemingly never-ending battle. Burn bans remained in effect in many counties.

South: The region continued to have warm days and cool nights. The northern, eastern and western parts of the region had light, scattered showers. In the northern part of the region, strong winds dried up any moisture received the previous week. Frio County producers were busy irrigating wheat, oats, corn and potatoes. Soil moisture continued to be short to very short in many of the northern counties. Wheat was in the flowering stage and beginning to turn a golden color as harvest approached. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in fair condition. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding at a steady pace. Cattle body condition scores declined somewhat but remained fair. In the eastern part of the region, a strong thunderstorm brought 1 inch to 2 inches of rain to Jim Wells County, along with hail that damaged 2,000 acres of row crops. Golf-ball size hail completely wiped out the corn crop. Grain sorghum and cotton may have survived if seed was not washed out by the pounding rain. Twenty percent of cotton and 90 percent of sorghum was planted in Kleberg and Kenedy counties. In the western counties, temperatures were in the 50s at night and mid-90s during the day — very favorable temperatures for rangeland and pasture forage growth and crops. Oats were still green, and ryegrass was developing well. Farmers were planting forage sorghum, small grains, onions, watermelons and cantaloupes. Dry conditions throughout the week allowed fresh-market spinach to be harvested and shipped. Widely scattered, light rain greened up rangeland and pastures. Cotton, corn and cabbage crops were also progressing well with little insect pressure. However, in Dimmit and Maverick counties, soil moisture was short. Livestock supplemental feed was light to very light as forages improved. In the southern counties, spring vegetable and row crops were progressing well. Some ranchers were harvesting hay, and supplemental livestock feeding slowed down as livestock grazing increased.

South Plains: Though widely scattered showers fell in some counties, the region remained desperately dry. High winds and very warm temperatures took what little moisture was received. Winter wheat, pasture and range were in very poor condition. Water became a critical issue in the Floyd County town of Lockney. The town lost the McKenzie Water supply pump, and all citizens were under water restrictions. The municipality was in the process of drilling new wells. Producers will be planting cotton next month — if weather cooperates. Ranchers continued to provide supplemental feed to cattle on rangeland that lacks forage. Although producers were pre-watering to prepare fields for planting, without rain to supplement the irrigation, crops, if planted, will surely fail.

Southeast: Soil moisture varied widely, with most counties having adequate levels, but with some reporting from very short to as much as 100 percent surplus. However, warmer and windy weather was drying out soils. Rangeland and pastures varied widely too, from very poor to excellent, with good to fair ratings the most common. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Crops in Brazoria County were still drought stressed. Rice planting in Chambers County was ongoing. In Montgomery County, growth of winter annuals slowed, but the seed crop of legumes was good. Orange County received only light, scattered shows, and soils continued to dry out. In Walker County, cool-season forages were still highly productive. Clover and ryegrass in particular looked good.

Southwest: Warm, dry, and windy conditions continued throughout the region. A few counties reported from 0.5 inch to more than 1 inch of rain, a welcome event for rangeland as well as row crops. Pecan trees were budding. Corn and grain sorghum emerged, and cotton growers were wrapping up planting. Wheat, oats were in good condition, as were livestock. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued.

West Central: Extremely dry, windy conditions continued. Temperatures were warm with cool nights. A few counties reported isolated, light showers. Soil moisture was critically low, and there was high risk of wildfire. Wheat crops remained in poor to fair condition. Some wheat was heading, but overall, plants remained small and drought stressed. Most wheat had been or will likely be zeroed out by crop insurance adjusters. Some producers were planting grain sorghum in irrigated fields. Dryland producers were waiting on a rain before planting. Cotton producers continued to prepare ground for planting. Rangeland and pastures showed some greening up as warm-season grasses and forbs broke winter dormancy. Stock tank water levels continued to drop. If drought conditions continued, producers expected to have to further reduce livestock inventory. Livestock were in fair to poor condition with continued supplemental feeding. Pecan trees were budding with the warmer weather.


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