wheat-drought Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter
Wheat is struggling in some areas of Texas where the lack of moisture has made production questionable.

Wheat crop suffering, drought persists

“If you average out the state, wheat is not great,” said Dr. Clark Neely, AgriLife Extension state small grains and oilseed specialist in College Station.

As wheat comes out of dormancy across much of the state, the crop is suffering and expected to see reduced yields, even if some timely rains do fall, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

“If you average out the state, wheat is not great,” said Dr. Clark Neely, AgriLife Extension state small grains and oilseed specialist in College Station.

“Wheat acres went up statewide, from 4.7 million last year to 5 million this year, but most of that is in the High Plains and Rolling Plains where we have the worst drought,” Neely said. “Conditions are better in the Blacklands, but it won’t make much difference in the statewide wheat crop, because there are not many acres there.”

The High Plains are very dry, he said, adding producers with irrigation will make a crop, but only about half of what they like to see. And the dryland is really in rough shape.

If wheat was planted early enough to take advantage of some good moisture last fall, Neely said, it provided some grazing and then the cattle were pulled off. Now it is sitting there, and with some timely moisture, it could still make a grain crop.

“Without additional moisture this spring, it is difficult to see how many of the dryland acres in the High Plains are going to make a crop, some of which has already droughted out or never emerged,” he said.

In the Rolling Plains, Neely said east of Vernon had some rain and the crop is in better shape than west, where little rain fell. Fields might make 10-15 bushels per acre in the western part of the Rolling Plains, optimistically, and maybe 20 bushels in the eastern part of the Rolling Plain.

But, it would have to keep raining, he said. The recent rains alone will not be enough to get it through the rest of the season. The rainfall so far has been very sporadic in timing and location.

“Another issue,” Neely said, “is some late planted wheat is just now germinating and that will not have time to vernalize, because there are not enough chilling hours left in the season. It will stay vegetative and won’t produce a seed head, or will be poorly tillered. Anything that germinated mid-February or later is going to be doubtful.”

The wheat crop east of Interstate 35 is in pretty good shape now despite a dry fall and January, he said. In the Dallas area, records were set for the amount of rain that fell in the month of February, so the wheat should be doing good now.

In South Texas, very few acres were planted to wheat this year due to the price of wheat, Neely said.

Dr. Jourdan Bell, AgriLife Extension agronomist in Amarillo, said early planted wheat had good stands initially. However, those dense stands have used a lot of the subsoil moisture.

“If the stands are being maintained under irrigation, they are still looking good,” she said. “If they are on dryland, they are looking very poor.”

She said there also was some late–planted wheat dusted in and either it has not emerged or did emerge with very poor and uneven stands.

“But wheat is very hardy,” Bell said. “I would never want to write off a wheat crop too early. We will see a reduced yield on many fields, but if we receive some timely rains moving forward in the spring, there is the potential that poor stands could still make a wheat crop.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

PANHANDLE: Windy and dry conditions continued in the district. Temperatures were warm to above normal, with no moisture reported. Soil moisture was rated mostly very short. A good general rain was needed throughout the region. Dallam and Hartley counties were windy and dry, with very high wildfire potential. Wheat continued to stress. Some wheat fields with lack of a crop cover started blowing. Irrigation was active on wheat and alfalfa and on some ground to be planted to corn. Wheat pasture cattle continued to come off wheat. Spring calving has been good with open weather. Supplemental feeding was very active for cow/calf operators. Deaf Smith County weather conditions continue to be extremely dry. No moisture has fallen for more than 125 days. Cattle were being moved off pastures due to the lack of grazing. Extended drought in Hall County has taken a toll on pastures and wheat conditions. Cattle condition scores were declining due to drought conditions. Ochiltree and Moore counties also reported extremely dry conditions. Irrigated wheat producers were expected to begin irrigation soon. Very few farming activities were taking place. Cattle were being supplemented on rangeland. Fire danger remained high on most days across the region.

SOUTH PLAINS: Area conditions remained severely dry. Windy conditions continued as well. Producers were preparing land for spring planting. Winter wheat, pasture and rangeland remained poor to very poor. Much of the region remained under a fire danger advisory.

ROLLING PLAINS: Precipitation stayed primarily in the eastern counties where up to 5 inches of rain was reported, helping range, pasturelands and stock tanks. The moisture was too late to help the wheat pasture, but it will help those planning to harvest the grain. Unfortunately, the western counties were still extremely dry and in need of moisture. Overall, the wheat crop continued to suffer. Conditions also were still too dry for spring preparations for row crops. Pastures were bare and cattle were being heavily supplemented. Fire danger was very elevated in pastures that had not been grazed off.

NORTH: Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels ranged from mostly adequate to surplus in all counties. This past week brought more heavy rains, with record setting amounts ranging from an inch to 13 inches. Pastures and crop fields were saturated, and ponds and creeks were overflowing. The excess rain and a few sunny days made the rye grass pop. Wheat and oat fields were starting to green. Corn farmers were ready to start planting but were waiting for the fields to dry down. Cattle were doing well. Conditions for feeding hay remained difficult due to the amount of soil moisture and finding dry spots to place the hay. Livestock were being monitored for stress due to the heavy humidity and seeking dry ground in the heavy clay conditions. Trees were starting to bloom. Feral hogs increased their activity due to the topsoil moisture and the warmer weather.

FAR WEST: Temperatures ranged from highs in the 80s to lows in the 40s. Conditions were very dry and getting worse daily. The blowing winds did not help as producers were trying to get field work done, and if they managed to bring any moisture to the surface, the winds dried it out. Wheat pasture was basically lost, however most of the crop had not jointed, so a good general rain could still produce some grain. Pre-water irrigation had begun. Prospects for corn and sorghum were decreasing due to the economics of irrigation. Fire danger remained high due to winds and dry matter. Trees were starting to bud and ranges were slightly green in some places. Irrigation water releases were scheduled for April in El Paso County, which relies on Rio Grande project water. Growers were advised they would receive 3.5 acre feet/per acre of water this year. Some areas in the Lower Valley received effluent/treated sewage water. The effluent water was being used on pecans and alfalfa mainly, but some farmers were pre-irrigating cotton fields. Some wells were used mainly in the Upper Valley where water quality was decent to good.

WEST CENTRAL: The district had mild early spring-like temperatures, with warm days and cool night. Some areas reported much needed rainfall around mid-week. Stock tanks and ponds responded to recent rainfall and the levels improved. Cotton producers continued to shred stalks and plow fields in preparation for spring planting. Most farmers and producers were waiting on rain to do any corn or sorghum planting. Small grain fields made some progress due to recent rainfall. Winter wheat and oats were still behind but looked much better and improved some due to recent moisture. Range and pastures were still poor due to lack of substantial rains, but conditions improved some with recent rain. Some cool season pasture grasses were showing green-up and trying to grow. Livestock remained in fair condition. Supplemental feeding continued. Many farmers and ranchers were grazing wheat fields due to pasture and rangeland poor conditions. Hay was in very high demand. Cattle markets were extremely active, and demand was very good.

CENTRAL: Many small grain fields were recovering after the rain. Most counties were reporting good soil moisture. Surface water impoundments were full to overflowing. Wheat was performing better due to recent moisture. Rainfall and wet conditions across the region postponed the start of corn and grain sorghum planting. Pastures were starting to improve and clovers and grass were growing. Overall range and pasture conditions were reported as good. Winter annuals were starting to emerge along with warm season forages.

EAST: Surplus rainfall caused flooding and erosion issues across the district. Supplemental hay feeding slowed down in Cherokee County, while Trinity County reported record numbers of hay fed with more hay being purchased. Warm-season grasses emerged. Panola County wheat crops and Cherokee County oat conditions were in poor shape. Jasper County reported pasture management and planting were delayed by wet conditions. Pasture and rangeland conditions were reported as poor. Garden preparations were started in Marion County. Topsoil and subsoil conditions were at a surplus. Gregg County reported cattle prices at the sale barn were up on the local level, while Houston and Shelby counties reported cattle numbers were low with the prices high. Wild hogs caused damages in Henderson County, and Upshur County implemented control measures to combat them.

SOUTHWEST: Most counties finally received much needed rain that helped moisture conditions. It is evident; however, all counties were still in need of a steady rainfall. The rain helped range and pasture conditions. Livestock remained in fair condition.

COASTAL BEND: Recent rainfall was inconsistent across the area, which limited field work for some producers due to excessively wet conditions, while others were able to be in the fields. Moisture conditions were good in most areas, but there were still places that were dry. Some cotton was being planted as growers continued planting their sorghum acres. Corn planting also began over the past week. Weeds were becoming a problem in some fields. Pre-plant fertilizer was being applied to row crop fields as soil conditions allowed. Pastures were greening up rapidly with the warmer weather and winter grasses and clovers continued to grow. Livestock were doing well with continued hay and protein supplements and cattle were finding plenty of green forage.

SOUTH: Across the district mild weather conditions were reported with some parts receiving rainfall, providing adequate moisture levels, while others were still in need of more moisture. In much of the district, livestock producers were still providing some form of supplemental feed to livestock until native range and pastures green up. In Atascosa County, warmer weather and rainfall were good for cattle, and encouraged winter pastures to grow. In Frio County, potato and corn planting continued, with 30 percent of the corn crop emerged. Wheat and oat fields continued to improve with recent rainfall. In McMullen County, soil moisture levels remained dry. Range and pasture conditions remained in fair condition and were struggling with spring green up due to lack of moisture. Supplemental feeding continued at a steady pace. Body condition on cattle declined some, but most herds remained in fair condition. In La Salle County, moisture conditions were looking good, but the topsoil moisture was starting to disappear. Live Oak County received from a quarter of an inch to an inch of rainfall over the past 10 days. Pastures were greening rapidly, and farm work was moving along at a fast past. In Maverick County, Coastal Bermuda grass crop fields were greening up. In Zavala County, planting of corn, sorghum and cotton was active. Harvest of fresh and processing spinach was very active as well. Wheat, onions and carrots made good progress. In Duval County, the winter crops have had adequate rainfall for growth. Hidalgo County reported very short soil moisture levels and cotton planting was underway. Harvest of vegetables, sugarcane and citrus continued. Some areas in Willacy County received about an inch and a half of rainfall. Cameron County planting was in full swing with sorghum almost ending and cotton continuing till mid-March. Livestock were reported in good condition and forage availability was poor due to a recent freeze and cool/cold weather conditions.

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