Texas Crop Weather: Expect More Sorghum, Less Cotton

    By all indications, Texas farmers will likely be planting considerably less cotton this year and more grain sorghum, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

    In the face of much lower commodity prices, farmers are facing real challenges deciding what to plant and what not to plant in order to see a positive return for 2015, according to Dr. Mark Welch, AgriLife Extension grains marketing economist in College Station.

    Exactly how the acreage mix for thousands of Texas farmers will pan out remains to be seen, but as it looks right now, they will be planting more grain and less cotton, Welch said.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture won’t release its planting intentions report for spring crops until March 31, Welch noted. But the National Cotton Council recently came out with their own survey, and they are anticipating a large reduction in cotton acreages nationwide, but particularly in Texas.

    According to the council’s survey, Texas estimated cotton acreage is 5.34 million acres, down nearly 14 percent from the actual 2014 acreage of 6.2 million acres. The council’s report on the survey can be found here.

    There are many cropping choices farmers can make to replace the nearly 850,000 acres, Welch said. But as farmers typically react to relative prices when making cropping decisions, the most likely one will be grain sorghum.

    “Particularly in the grain markets, we’re seeing some very strong cash bids for grain sorghum relative to corn,” he said. “And that’s important for Texas producers, particularly in areas where moisture is the limiting factor. Grain sorghum versus cotton is a pretty viable option for us. So that may create some opportunities, as that strength of cash market for sorghum has been very positive through the winter and is now extending into the spring. We’ll have to see if it continues through harvest.”

    Because of low prices, many farmers are expected to reduce cotton plantings this year, and the most likely replacement will be grain sorghum, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Robert Burns)

    Because of low prices, many farmers are expected to reduce cotton plantings this year, and the most likely replacement will be grain sorghum, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Robert Burns)

    Other alternatives would be sunflowers, soybeans, sesame and canola, Welch said.

    “One factor that is much more positive is the moisture situation going into spring is much better than it has been in previous years,” he said. “Diversification is it’s own form of risk management. So again, it’s a challenge, but there’s also opportunity.”

    AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

    Central: Soil moisture, rangeland, pastures and livestock were all rated as good. Small grains looked particularly good. Warmer temperatures allowed landowners to catch up on winter maintenance and fieldwork. Producers were applying fertilizer, preparing the land for planting corn and sorghum, and getting ready for pesticide and herbicide applications. Peach trees were blooming. Cattle were still receiving supplemental feed. Though soil moisture was good, there was a general need for more rain to raise stock tank and lake water levels. Cattle prices either leveled or dropped a little.

    Coastal Bend: Overall, the condition of livestock improved as producers continued to feed hay and protein supplements. There were scattered, short rains throughout the region that limited fieldwork due to already wet conditions. In some areas, winter annual forages greened up and were growing after much-needed sunshine and warmer temperatures. However, in other areas, winter annual forages were only slowly growing due to continued wet weather and lack of sunshine. Wheat emerged and looked good. Corn growers were behind in planting due to field conditions, but were hopeful they could continue planting by mid-February. Grain sorghum producers had similar issues planting due to wet conditions.

    East: The region received scattered showers, and lakes, ponds and creeks were full. All counties except Harrison reported subsoil moisture as mostly adequate. Harrison County reported subsoil moisture as mostly short. Conditions were cold, cloudy and windy with little sunshine for most of the reporting period. Due to so many overcast days this year, winter forage production was down. Livestock producers continued to feed hay and supplements. Hay sales were moderate. Marion County reported some cattle were trying to graze and eating less hay. As temperatures rose, along with windy days, some counties reported pastures and fields drying out. The drying out allowed planting and sprigging to resume. Growers were planting onions and cooler season crops, and pruning fruit trees. Livestock were mostly in good condition. Livestock markets remained strong. Weaning and selling of market-ready calves and cull cows continued, though most herds had finished calving for the season. Feral hog problems were increasing.

    Far West: Conditions were warmer, almost spring-like. With the precipitation of the last few weeks, topsoil moisture was mostly adequate while subsoil moisture was short to adequate. Pastures and rangeland were mostly in fair condition. Upland cotton and pecans were 100 percent harvested. Reeves County reported that oats were not yet emerged. Winter wheat was 100 percent emerged, but mostly in poor condition.

    North: Topsoil moisture varied widely from short to surplus, with adequate being the most common rating. Temperatures also varied widely after two cold fronts came through early in the week. At the end of the reporting period, days warmed to the mid-50s and 70s. Some counties reported as much as 0.75 inch of rain. Winter wheat looked a little better, and winter pastures showed some growth. Ryegrass growth slowed back down after a freeze and was looking somewhat stressed in most areas. Livestock were in good condition. The cattle market was still strong. Scouting found grasshopper nymphs near Como.

    Panhandle: Temperatures were up and down through most of the week before warming and breaking high records by the weekend. There were reports of the up-and-down temperatures causing some sickness for animals. Fields were being prepared for planting. Seed and spraying decisions were being made. In some counties, the above-average temperatures allowed producers to finish stripping the cotton that had been left in the field. Winter wheat was starting to perk up, with many of the dryland fields looking very good. There were spotty reports of pesticide applications for greenbugs, which were earlier than usual. Limited numbers of stocker cattle were being placed to graze on early planted wheat to help with feed cost. Some producers were doing small amounts of fieldwork as they were still trying to decide what to plant. Hansford County soils were still wet from snow last week and only feeding cattle was being done. Rangeland and pasture varied from poor to fair condition, with most reporting good to fair.

    Rolling Plains: Recent moisture helped winter wheat tremendously. Fields were lush and green, and producers had a positive outlook. Some producers began moving cattle to wheat for grazing as pasture stands were becoming thin. Pastures and rangeland were in fair condition, but ranchers wanted to relieve grazing pressure to give stands time to rebound. Livestock were in good condition. The cotton harvest was finally finished after wet weather stalled harvesting for several weeks. Yields were good, but cotton prices were discouraging. With ever-increasing input costs and declining cotton prices, some producers were looking for other options.

    South: Cool night and warm daytime temperatures continued, with light, scattered showers throughout the region. In the northern part of the region, winter oats were doing well. Potato planting was completed, and the light rains helped wheat and oats. Winter annual forb growth improved, boosting grazing conditions for cattle and wildlife. Supplemental feeding continued as the calving season progressed. Cattle body condition scores remained fair. Soil moisture conditions were 100 percent adequate in Atascosa and McMullen counties, and 40 to 65 percent adequate in La Salle County. In the eastern part of the region, good rains helped rangeland and pastures in some counties, but livestock producers were still providing supplemental feed in order to allow rangeland and pastures to recover. A cold front swept through Jim Wells County dropping temperatures significantly. Soil moisture conditions remained mostly adequate in Brooks , Jim Hogg and Jim Wells counties. In the western part of the region, slow rain benefited forage production, but producers were still supplying mineral blocks and hay to cattle. A few days of heavy drizzle and light rain put a stop to spinach harvesting for a while, but harvesting resumed as soon as the fields were dry enough. Onions, carrots and cabbage continued to make good progress. Soil moisture conditions were 80 to 90 percent adequate in Dimmit County, 80 to 85 percent short in Zapata County and 100 percent adequate in Zavala County. In the southern part of the region, planting conditions were good in Cameron County, and farmers were preparing fields for corn, sorghum and sunflowers. Forage availability for livestock was good to excellent. Harvesting of citrus and vegetables continued in Hidalgo County. In Starr County, spring vegetable and row crop preparations continued, fall onion crops were progressing well and supplemental feeding of cattle continued. In Willacy County, after another 1 inch to 2 inches of rain, fields were too wet for any fieldwork.

    South Plains: The weather was mild, allowing producers to resume fieldwork. Producers were shredding cotton stalks and plowing land. Wheat improved with the warmer weather and was in fair to good condition. Soil moisture was short to adequate after last week’s precipitation. Pastures and rangeland were in fair to good condition. Cattle were mostly in good condition. Ranchers only had to supplement cattle on cold and/or wet days.

    Southeast: Soil moisture levels throughout the region varied widely, but were mostly in the adequate to surplus range. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, but fair ratings were most common. Hardin County was the exception, reporting 100 percent poor moisture levels. With good moisture, Chambers County winter ryegrass pastures were actively growing. No fieldwork has started due to the wet weather. In Montgomery County, the winter annuals showed growth when there was sunshine. Walker County crops were still in a holding pattern, waiting for warmer growing weather. Clovers were emerging in pastures, but there was little top growth. Some cool-season vegetables were receiving too much moisture. However, protected early planted and/or later cool-season/spring vegetables were doing well. In Brazos County, cold and wet field conditions limited cool-season forage growth. Fields were still too wet for farmers to start plant ing corn.

    Southwest: Cold, damp weather continued, but soil moisture was favorable for spring planting. Wheat and pasture grasses needed sunshine. Fields were being cultivated and prepared for spring plantings. Supplemental feeding was necessary to maintain the body condition of both wildlife and livestock. The external parasite loads were heavy on some livestock and wildlife.

    West Central: Daytime weather was unseasonably warm. Scattered showers were received early in the week. Soil moisture continued to improve and was adequate, though very little field activity was being done due to wet conditions. Good moisture and warm weather improved winter wheat; most of the crop was in above-average condition. Producers were starting to spray for winter weeds. The cotton harvest was completed, though the gins were expecting to be running for a few more weeks. Rangeland and pastures were in good condition. Pastures were showing more green winter forbs and grasses. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. Supplemental feeding of livestock with cubes and protein tubs continued. Hay was being fed only sparingly. Some areas were starting to see some increase in livestock herds. All areas needed heavy rain to fill stock tanks and ponds. The pecan harvest was mostly complete.

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