Weeks of dry conditions do not appear to have caused serious setbacks to Texas corn and sorghum fields.
Corn and sorghum acreage is down in the High Plains this year as many producers have decided to plant cotton, says Dr. Calvin Trostle, AgriLife Extension agronomist, Lubbock. The decision to forgo corn and sorghum is based on relatively good cotton prices, the lingering threat of sugarcane aphids in sorghum and water availability.
“Cotton prices are around 15 cents higher per pound than last year, so producers are feeling pretty good about switching to cotton,” Trostle says.
He says producers’ awareness of sugarcane aphids and monitoring populations over the past three years improved their ability to fight the pest, but many farmers remain concerned about the crop.
Many High Plains producers were hammered by sugarcane aphids in 2015, Trostle said. Observers have seen evidence the pest overwintered in johnsongrass around the region. In 2016, sugarcane aphid infestations reached moderate levels, with some hot spots northwest of Lubbock as the pest blew into the region on southeasterly winds.
EARLY SPRAYS ARE CRUCIAL
“As of May 30, we’ve not had any reports of sugarcane aphids in the High Plains,” he says. “We have so much information available now for producers to put into action against the pest, and it has made a difference. Our AgriLife entomologists note that you can’t understate the value of early sprays as soon as the aphids approach economic thresholds.”
Topsoil moisture, or the lack thereof, also concerns corn and sorghum producers in swaths of the High Plains. Poor topsoil moisture could delay plantings as dryland producers wait for rain.
“Surface soil moisture is getting scarce in many areas,” Trostle says. “Good, deep moisture exists 6-inches or deeper, but a 1-inch rain would help many producers.”
June is typically a wet month in the High Plains, so moisture is not a concern yet. But some producers are choosing to go with cotton because they face irrigation limits, and the plant is more drought tolerant than corn.
Dr. Josh McGinty, AgriLife Extension agronomist, Corpus Christi, says corn and sorghum yields likely will be affected by limited moisture this spring. Most fields were planted early due to warmer than usual temperatures, but timely spring rains didn’t arrive to many areas.
“We received 3 to 6 inches of rain this weekend, but it’s too late for most fields,” McGinty says. “We needed moisture in April when corn was tasseling and sorghum was in the boot stage. At that point the crop was at its peak water demand, but it was dry and it stayed dry, so yields may have dropped off.”
McGinty says some areas in the Coastal Bend received rain and should do well. Some areas received extreme weather, including hail storms in San Patricio County and high winds, 60 to 70 mph, that laid fields near Beeville flat and unlikely to be salvaged.
Dr. Ronnie Schnell, AgriLife Extension agronomist, College Station, reports some hail and storm damage to corn and sorghum fields near Hondo and Elgin. But overall, Schnell says, corn and sorghum fields from the Coastal Bend to Central Texas “looked pretty good.”
Corn was beginning the grain fill-stage and sorghum was getting close to flowering in Central Texas, he says.
“We missed rain chances for about three weeks, but most areas received a good rain,” he adds. “A lot of areas could have used rain a few weeks ago. We see some slight moisture stress, but everything looks good.”
Rain was in the forecast, and Schnell says areas that missed substantial rains from recent storms could receive moisture from those systems as they move through the state.
Sorghum producers were monitoring small numbers of sugarcane aphids, but no major infestations have been reported so far. Producers will be monitoring temperatures and weather conducive to sugarcane aphid populations building.
“It’s a complex interaction of weather, temperatures, moisture and beneficial insects that keep their numbers in check,” he says. “If we get hot and dry, producers will need to monitor sugarcane aphids closely.”