AGRICULTURIST OF THE YEAR David Kuhl chats with Ryan Collett farm manager for the Stiles Farm near Thrall Texas

AGRICULTURIST OF THE YEAR David Kuhl chats with Ryan Collett, farm manager for the Stiles Farm near Thrall, Texas.

Sopping wet May devastated Central Texas grain crops

“I’ve never seen an extreme weather change like the one we had this spring.”

Most of the time, when farmers plant late and plant wet, the rain stops and they have to deal with a dry spring.

But this year, says Williamson County, Texas, farmer David Kuhl, “The rain just kept coming.”

Kuhl, who grows corn, grain sorghum, wheat, and hay on 2,500 acres near Taylor, Texas, was named Williamson County Agriculturist of the Year at the 52nd annual Stiles Farm Field Day — the first ever held indoors because of all the rain (with more predicted) at the Stiles Farm location. The event was held instead at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Taylor

Crops are not faring well in saturated soils, Kuhl said. A deluge on Memorial Day caused severe injury to crops that had already been set back by a rainy May. “We had a lot of flooding in Taylor,” he said. “Water was over roads in the county.”

A friend had 4 inches of rain in his house. “It’s been unbelievable,” Kuhl said. “The Austin area recorded 23 days in May with rainfall — that’s almost every day of the month with rain.”

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Poor wheat

Wheat was off to a pretty good start, he says. Planting season last fall offered good weather and ample moisture to germinate seed. Winter was also good, with adequate rainfall and favorable growing conditions. March turned wet. April was wet, too, and May was even wetter.

“We had a massive amount of water on Memorial Day,” Kuhl says. “The wheat crop is poor. We had good potential, but we already had water damage before the May and Memorial Day rains. Sprouting hasn’t been as bad as we expected — only 2 percent to 5 percent — but bushel weight is also down. Those two discounts, on top of low wheat prices, make it hard. Those discounts really hurt us.”

Corn started off “about a month late; the older corn planted on lighter soil took the water better.” Later-planted corn and corn on heavier soils didn’t do as well. “That corn will take a hit,” Kuhl says. “Crop conditions vary from farm to farm and from field to field, and within fields. Water has hurt corn on the deeper ground.”

The grain sorghum situation, he says, is about as bad as that for corn. “We did get one good cutting of hay during a period of open weather. We have good soil moisture, though.” Kuhl has no cattle of his own, so he grows coastal bermudagrass for the market.

Good 2014 yields

He’s been farming on his own since high school, and says, “I’ve never seen an extreme weather change like the one we had this spring.”

He made good corn and wheat yields last year on adequate moisture, “and wheat prices were still good.” Wheat in the area was so good, he says, that a lot of farmers got interested in the crop. “We have a lot of new wheat farmers this year. There might not be as many next year, though; wheat likes a little dry weather.”

As if the weather weren’t trouble enough, feral hogs are restricting where Kuhl can plant corn. “We have some acreage where hogs are so bad we can’t plant corn, so we plant our grain sorghum on those fields.

“Feral hogs have become just like insect pests — we have to deal with them every year,” he says. The best control measure has been shooting hogs from a helicopter during the winter, when trees are bare and the animals are easier to see.

“We looked for them before we planted this year, but they were not around,” Kuhl says. “After we got planted they came back.”

He says about all he can do for the rest of the summer is monitor crop conditions. “We’ve done all we can do — it’s in God’s hands now.”

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