Southwest wheat looks promising

Wheat farmers across much of the Southwest are poised to harvest a good crop and take advantage of a strong market. In the Texas High Plains and the Oklahoma Panhandle, however, yield potential has been drastically hampered by persistent drought.

“The High Plains and part of the Rolling Plains in Texas are in trouble,” says Gaylon Morgan, Texas Extension wheat specialist at College Station.

It's similar in Oklahoma, says Jeff Edwards, Oklahoma State University Extension wheat specialist, in Stillwater.

“Where we have wheat, the crop looks good. But we have areas in the northwest part of the state where they will not harvest anything. Overall, we're more optimistic than we were in February.”

Edwards said a few acres of irrigated wheat in the Oklahoma Panhandle will make. “Otherwise, there is no wheat there.”

He and Morgan say disease pressure has been light this spring. “We did not see much pressure until early May,” Edwards says. “We began to see more after spring rains but it came in late enough that it will not affect the crop.”

He says Oklahoma farmers sprayed more fungicide on the crop this year than “ever before.”

“Rain in early May was probably too late to rescue drought-stressed wheat,” Morgan says. “But we have not seen a lot of disease. We've had some leaf rust and stripe rust eruptions in northeast Texas, but across the Texas Blacklands, leaf rust pressure has been low.”

A dry early spring helped, he says.

Morgan says he's uncertain how much drought-stressed wheat will be abandoned. “With the price of wheat as high as it is, farmers will harvest if they can. I don't expect fields to be abandoned unless they have no production potential.”

Edwards says Oklahoma farmers stuck pretty close to typical fertilization practices, despite high prices. “We may have gone a little lighter than usual,” he says. “Back when they needed to be topdressing, much of the crop still looked iffy. And some of these farmers have not made a wheat crop in the last two years so cash flow has been tight. Consequently, fertilization may have been off a bit.”

Oklahoma farmers planted about 5.7 million acres of wheat for 2008. Some of that acreage has been grazed. Texas planted acreage is about 6 million. Both figures are from National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates.

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