Texas wheat crop strengthened by recent rainfall

The 2006 drought led to the smallest number of wheat acres harvested in Texas since 1925, but this year's crop is showing promise thanks to timely rains, a small grains expert said.

"(Rainfall) in the High Plains and other parts of the state over the past couple of weeks have increased yield expectations," said Dr. Gaylon Morgan, Texas Cooperative Extension small grains specialist. "Statewide, most of the wheat is considered to have good to excellent yield potential due to (available) soil moisture and relatively low disease pressure."

About 6 million winter wheat acres have been planted as part of the 2007 crop, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Texas producers have renewed optimism after the 2006 drought devastated wheat and other crops throughout the state, resulting in $2.5 billion in losses, according to Extension economists.

The value of the 2006 Texas wheat crop was $153 million compared to $330 million in 2005 and $362 million in 2004, according to USDA data. Last year's drought not only led to millions in losses in revenue for farmers, but sales proceeds from harvested wheat in 2006 led to just $42,000 in Texas Wheat Board allocations for research initiatives. About $211,000 was allotted in 2005 by comparison.

The only disappointments so far are the Southern Rolling Plains and the Concho Valley with late-planted wheat, Morgan said. Yield potential is expected to be low and much of the wheat "grazed-out or baled for hay, despite recent rains," he said.

Meanwhile, rain and warm weather is helping the crop to progress rapidly, Morgan said. In South Texas, the wheat crop is heading and flowering. In the Blacklands region, wheat is beyond the boot stage (the seedhead enclosed within the sheath of the flag leaf) to early flowering.

"In these areas, the crop ranges from late-jointing to early heading," he said. "Most of the wheat on the High Plains is at the jointing stage."

Meanwhile, weed management is another issue that needs attention from growers, Morgan said. Mustards and broadleaf weeds become a problem for some producers as the growing season progresses, he said.

"Late-season broadleaf weed options exist. However, no herbicides should be applied after boot stage," Morgan said.

Examples of herbicides that may be applied up to the boot stage include MCPA, 2,4-D, Ally, Buctril and Finesse.

"If your wheat crop is beyond the boot stage and heavy weed infestations will negatively affect harvest and grain quality, several harvest aids do exist," Morgan said. "However, the harvest aids can't be applied until after the wheat crop is in the hard-dough stage or beyond. If wheat for seed will be kept from a field receiving a harvest aid application, a seed germination test is strongly encouraged because harvest aids can negatively affect seed germination."

Wheat producers are also keeping a watchful eye on crop disease. South Texas wheat is heading with relatively low leaf rust pressure, Morgan said. In the Blacklands, leaf rust pressure is relatively low, "but powdery mildew is still present on susceptible hard wheat varieties."

"Leaf rust is being observed at concerning levels on very susceptible varieties, such as Cutter, Jagelene and 2145," he said. "However, varieties with moderate resistance, such as Coronado, only have low levels of leaf rust at this time."

Fannin County has maintained its resistance to leaf rust, he said, while stripe rust levels remain at very low levels throughout South Texas and the Blacklands regions.

"These low foliar disease levels may be the result of a very dry February and early March and fungal inoculum did not build up," Morgan said. "Nonetheless, as warm moist conditions have returned to much of the state, foliar diseases can increase quickly and warrant observation.

Producers with susceptible varieties to leaf rust and considering use of fungicide can review variety resistance ratings on the Web at http://varietytesting.tamu.edu/wheat/index.htm#diseases.

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