Texas crop, weather: Farmers worry about drought's impact on winter wheat

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COLLEGE STATION – After the failure of many of their summer crops due to drought, now producers have good reason to worry that they won’t make a winter wheat crop either, according to a Texas AgriLife Extension Service expert.

“There are some real concerns right now, not only about potentially getting the crop up in the future, but about what kind of yield potential we are going to have with the crop if we do,” said Dr. Todd Baughman, AgriLife Extension agronomist for the Rolling Plains region.

The concern focuses on soil-moisture reserves, as the bulk of winter wheat is planted during September and October, Baughman said. Without better soil moisture, the crop will not even emerge.

The concern is felt not just for grain production, but for livestock forage production too, as winter wheat is also commonly relied upon for fall grazing, he said. And wheat producers have reason to be concerned throughout most the state, not just in the Rolling Plains region.

“If you don’t get it up and growing, that’s going to limit your fall grazing, which is really going to hurt you from a cattle-performance standpoint,” Baughman said. “That’s probably the No. 1 fear that we’ve got right now.”

But for those who need grain production, the lack of soil moisture is causing a lot of anxiety as well, he said.

“If we don’t build up some soil moisture to grow this crop, there’s concern that it’s going to run out of water just like the cotton crop has done this year because it won’t have any real deep moisture to help with the yield potential.”

Many farmers plant wheat for both grazing and grain production, pulling cattle off fields in time for the crop to make grain. But wheat for grazing is an even higher priority this year because the drought has caused summer grazing to become non-existent and continued feeding has exhausted hay supplies, Baughman said.

“Typically, what you’ll see is that somewhere between mid-September to the middle of October is the prime planting time for grazing,” he said. “Of course, we would really like to be planting right around the first of October. For our grain guys, most planting will start somewhere in the middle of October to Thanksgiving. That would be the prime time that we would like to plant the crop as a grain-only crop. ”

But even for those planning wheat as a grain-only crop could run into trouble this year, he said. This is because November typically signals the start of a drier time of year for most of the state’s wheat-growing regions. If moisture reserves aren’t already built up before winter, the chances to make a good grain crop will be greatly diminished.

“The driest months – if you look at historical weather records — will be December, January and February,” Baughman said. “November will be slightly behind those, so … if we don’t get any rainfall from now through the first of November, then the chance of actually building that deep moisture up is limited even in a normal year.”

And obviously, this has been far from a normal year, he said.

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:

The 12 Texas AgriLife Extension Service Districts

Central: Temperatures remained high. Where there was rain, forages greened up but were not growing as well as hoped. Water for livestock was becoming a major issue. Hay prices continued to rise. Most corn and milo were baled for hay. Trees were going dormant; some are dying.

Coastal Bend: Extremely high temperatures and severe drought conditions continued. The cotton harvest was ongoing. Many trees showed signs of drought stress, and some were dying. Ponds were dry or extremely low. Herd liquidation became a reality for beef cattle producers. What cattle remained were being supplemented with hay and feed. Most livestock water had to be hauled or pumped from wells. Hay was being hauled in from other states.

East: Some areas had scattered showers, but they did not bring enough moisture to alleviate drought conditions. Pastures remained dry and short. Trees were dying. Ponds and creek levels continued to drop; some were already completely dried up. Producers were buying hay from out of state. Some also brought in water for livestock, while others continued culling of herds and some sold off entire herds.

Far West: In Glasscock County, rains caused quite a bit of cotton boll-drop, but the rest of the region suffered from extreme drought conditions. High temperatures were in the lower 90s in the mountains, but still in the triple digits along the Rio Grande. Nighttime temperatures dropped into the low to mid 70s in some areas. Cotton near El Paso was in full bloom and setting bolls, with very low pest pressure. Some pecan trees were winding up a light August nut drop. Other trees were entering the gel stage and continued to grow. Alfalfa producers were taking their fifth cutting.

North: With no rain and 100-plus degree daytime highs, soil-moisture levels were short throughout the district. The drought continued to take its toll on pastures. Nearly all livestock producers were feeding hay and supplements. Feed dealers were enlisting AgriLife Extension offices to help them find hay. Some dealers had to go as far as Alabama to find hay. With the drought and extreme shortage of hay, most producers were reducing or liquidating their herds. Stock tanks were very low and ponds were drying up across the area. Most corn and grain was harvested, with yields for both crops reported as average or slightly above. Grain sorghum that was planted on time did well, but late-planted sorghum was struggling. A few soybean fields were harvested over the past couple of days, but most was being cut for hay. Cotton looked terrible, and peanuts were in very poor condition. Skunks and armadillos were reportedly digging under houses to escape the heat and find moisture. Feral hogs were searching for ponds and mud holes. Rangeland and pastures were in very poor condition.

Panhandle: The region continued to be hot and dry. Soil-moisture levels were very short. Irrigators were still very active. More cornfields were abandoned because of lack of irrigation. Where possible, producers were salvaging what they could from corn failures by chopping it for silage. Pastures were in very poor condition. Livestock producers further reduced herds and were weaning calves early.

Rolling Plains: The record-breaking heat and dry weather that was the norm for the past several months continued. Scattered, light showers had little effect under 100-plus temperatures and wind. As mid-August came to a close, it was nearly a year since most counties had any measurable moisture. The region has had more than 80 days of highs above 100 degrees. Most of the cotton crop was disastered-out for insurance. Only irrigated cotton was left, and that was beginning to bloom out the top of plants and show signs of giving up. Hay was in short supply, and what was being harvested was sold before it is baled. Some producers stopped watering hay fields and were only irrigating cotton to conserve water. Most pastures were grazed off, and producers were forced to sell more cattle. Ranchers who still had cattle were worried about winter feed. Conservation Reserve Program acres were being grazed and bailed for hay, but approaching deadlines will force producers off these acres. By law, haying must cease Aug. 31and grazing by Oct. 31. Many stock-water tanks were being built, cleaned and given more depth. Low water levels resulted in fish kills, especially at Lake Kemp.

South: Scorching temperatures well above 100 degrees continued, keeping soil-moisture levels very short. Zapata County reported highs of 110 degrees. Rangeland and pastures were in poor to very poor condition, adding hardship for ranchers, livestock and wildlife throughout the entire region. High evaporation rates and the water needs of livestock and wildlife added to the difficulty for producers trying to hold onto their herds going into the fall. Livestock market prices weakened as a result of herd liquidations. Cattle body condition scores declined, but livestock mostly remained in fair condition thanks to supplemental feeding. Atascosa County livestock producers shipped in alfalfa from Nebraska. In Atascosa and Frio counties, peanuts were progressing well with constant irrigation, the sorghum harvest was completed and irrigated Bermuda grass fields were being cut for hay. In Zavala County, the cotton harvest began and preparations for fall plantings were in progress. In Cameron and Hidalgo counties, the cotton harvest was ongoing, producers were actively irrigating sugarcane and citrus, and some fall vegetables were being planted. In Starr County, the soybean harvest was under way and the sorghum harvest was finished.

South Plains: The region was still hot and dry, though temperatures became more moderate, with highs mostly in the mid-to-upper 90s. Producers wound down irrigating cotton as about 90 percent of the crop approached cutout, maturing about 30 days early. Some cotton fields will be sprayed with harvest aids within the next week. Fall small-grain crops will likely not be planted unless there is rain, as there was no moisture in the soil profile. Pastures and rangeland remained dry. Herds were being culled or moved to feeding facilities. A few counties had scattered showers, but not enough was received to make any difference at this point.

Southeast: Light showers did little to alleviate drought conditions. Cattle producers continued culling older cattle and weaning calves early. Groundwater levels further dropped, creating issues for watering cattle. Grain sorghum and rice were being harvested for hay at unprecedented levels. Hay movement was very active. There were concerns of nutritional quality of secondary forages and requests for suggestions on feeding strategies and supplementing programs. Trees were dying in pastures. Soybeans were at best in fair condition. Feeding livestock this winter program was expected to be a huge challenge for producers.

Southwest: The drought continued with no rain forecast. High afternoon winds created dust storms. While high temperatures dropped to the upper 90s, the heat continued to aggravate the dry conditions. Wildfire alerts remained in place. Many stock tanks completely dried up. Forage availability remained well below average for this time of the year. The cotton harvest was ongoing, with excellent yields from fully irrigated fields, but most dryland and partially irrigated cotton failed. Sweet corn, recently planted for an early fall harvest, made good progress under heavy irrigation. Peanuts, pecans and landscape nursery crops continued to make good progress wherever irrigation water was still available. Ranchers were providing supplemental feed to remaining livestock.

West Central: Hot, dry conditions continued. Most areas reported some rain, but not enough to break long-term drought conditions. Normally producers would be preparing fields for fall planting at this time, but no work was being done because of the extremely dry soils. Rangeland and pastures continue to deteriorate. Wildlife was suffering from drought and moving into towns looking for food and water. Producers continued to sell off livestock due to lack of forage and water. Some producers were in ‘survival mode,’ trying to hold onto a small number of cattle with which they can rebuild herds when conditions improve.

 


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