Despite dry planting conditions, Texas wheat producers are planting early and expected to plant about their average number of acres this year, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomist.
Panhandle producers are already planting, said Dr. Clark Neely, AgriLife Extension small grains and oilseed specialist in College Station. This means they are most likely planting wheat for fall grazing. Other growers will wait until spring to decide whether to take the crop to grain or graze out, depending on cattle and grain prices.
“There’s usually at least a month’s difference in planting dates if you know you’re planting for grain only, versus getting a forage crop and grazing in the fall,” Neely said. “The actual planting dates will vary, of course, depending upon what part of the state you’re in.”
From weekly reports by AgriLife Extension county agents, West Central producers were also planting, while South Plains and Rolling Plains wheat growers were preparing to plant and expected to be running full time soon.
Many Panhandle wheat growers were “dusting in” wheat, planting in dry soils with hopes of getting rain soon to bring the crop up, he said. Dusting in is not an uncommon practice, and actually a surer bet this year as the current super-strong El Niño is predicted to bring wetter-than-normal weather to the upper two-thirds of the state starting in October.
But a more serious threat for Texas High Plains producers is the “green bridge effect,” Neely said. This is when volunteer plants after a previous crop harvest play host to detrimental insects. The rule of thumb is to leave a field fallow and weed free for at least three weeks before planting.
“Wheat curl mite, a vector of wheat streak mosaic virus, is a good example of a major pest in wheat that can survive on volunteer plants and re-infest the following crop,” he said. “The pest and disease were observed in elevated levels last year, particularly in portions of the Rolling Plains.”
This year, high grasshopper populations were another threat to early planting, Neely said. The pest can devastate newly emerged wheat fields.
“Fall armyworms are another pest to watch out for this time of year,” he said.
Relatively low wheat prices, in the neighborhood of $4.50 to $5 per bushel, may also be prompting wheat producers to plant early for winter pastures rather than for grain, Neely said.
“When producers plant early, they need to be aware of the elevated threat some insect pests pose early in the season and be prepared to scout regularly and control these pests through insecticide applications,” he said. “Some seed treatments can also help mitigate some of the risk. When possible, waiting to plant until after the first one or two freezes will help reduce insect pressure.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Central: Soil moisture, rangeland, pastures and crops were all rated in fair condition. Overall, livestock were in good condition. The region received scattered showers, with accumulations from 0.5 inch to 2 inches. Sorghum crops were harvested, and the corn harvest was nearly finished. Cotton harvesting was estimated to be about half finished. Livestock producers were supplementing cattle in some areas. Farmers were making the final preparation for planting winter crops. Some were already planting ryegrass and oats. Stock-water tanks and stream levels were down, but there was still plenty of water for livestock.
Coastal Bend: Heavy rains fell over most of region, with accumulations of 1 inch to 6 inches. The rain temporarily shut down cotton and soybean harvesting. Some fields were again under standing water. There were a few fields of late cotton that still had green leaves, but those were expected to be defoliated as soon as soils dried out. The variability of maturity between fields made it difficult for farmers to make decisions about defoliation, boll-opener applications and other pre-harvest practices. In cotton fields already harvested, yields were good. The rice harvest neared completion. Haying stopped. Land preparation for winter pastures began. Pastures responded to the recent showers after several weeks of hot and dry conditions. Cattle remained in great condition, and producers started to wean calves.
East: A few counties received scattered showers, which may mean another hay cutting for producers in those areas. Generally, soil moisture levels were dropping. Some counties may have to reinstate burn bans. Forage production slowed. Upshur County producers were preparing for winter pastures and taking soil samples. Gregg County producers started planting cool-season forages. Armyworm damages occurred in several counties. Livestock remained in mostly good condition. Cattle were holding weight, and calves were growing off well. Some producers were weaning and selling market-ready calves and cull cows. Horn fly numbers on cattle increased. Gopher damage was prominent.
Far West: Pastures and rangeland were in very poor to fair condition. Scattered rain fell in some areas. Brewster County received as much as 2 inches. Ward County received 0.25 to 1 inch. The rest of the region remained dry. Topsoil and subsoil moisture were short to very short. Upland cotton was in fair to good condition, with most of the crop setting bolls. Dryland cotton was expected to be ready for harvest in about two weeks. About 75 percent of corn was mature, and most sorghum crops were harvested. Pastures and rangeland grasses were brown and brittle. Livestock producers had to supply supplemental feed to livestock and wildlife, and were preparing for fall cattle working. Some early calving herds were already being worked.
North: Topsoil moisture varied from very short to adequate. Some areas received from 0.5 inch to 1.5 inches of rain. The corn harvest was completed, and grain sorghum harvesting was about half finished. Yields on both crops were far below average, which was attributed to excessive rain in the spring and early part of the summer delaying planting and maturity. In some areas, the grain sorghum harvest was strung out; some fields not good enough to harvest were being grazed or baled – but not before being tested for nitrates and prussic acid. Livestock producers were waiting to receive more rain before planting winter annual pasture grasses. Pastures did not show much improvement from the rains, though some did green up a little. Some producers were hoping to get another cutting of hay this fall, but were expecting the cuttings be of poor quality and quantity if they do. Armyworms remained an issue. Wild hogs continued to cause damage.
Panhandle: The region was windy and mostly dry, with above-average temperatures. Soil moisture was rated fair to adequate. A few areas received light rain, from 0.14 to 0.75 inch, late in the week. Collingsworth County sorghum crops were beginning to color, and cotton was loading up with bolls. Earlier-planted cotton was beginning to open bolls. Hansford County producers were planting wheat for winter pasture. The silage harvest wound down, and producers turned off irrigation on most corn. The corn harvest was expected to start in a couple of weeks. In Hansford County, grain sorghum, both dryland and irrigated, looked good. Hall County cotton progress and maturity stalled due to high temperatures and lack of rain. Pastures needed rain for grass to grow. Ochiltree County wheat planting for fall pasture started under irrigation. Topsoils were very dry for planting, but it was too early to plant wheat for only grain.
Rolling Plains: Hot, dry conditions continued. Wheat producers were waiting for grasshopper populations to decrease before planting. Hot days were helping cotton to finish maturing; bolls were opening. Earlier-planted cotton was in good condition, but later-planted cotton wasn’t faring very well. Cattle were generally in good condition. Rangeland and pastures were brown and in need of rain. Landowners were becoming very concerned about wildfires due to the dry conditions. Lightning caused a couple of wildfires, with about 400 acres total burned.
South: With only light-scattered rains, most of the region remained hot, humid and dry. In the northern parts of the region, cotton harvesting continued and irrigated peanuts were developing well. There were brush fires in La Salle County. In McMullen County, livestock producers increased supplemental feeding of cattle. Cattle body condition scores remained mostly fair. Soil moisture was adequate in Atascosa and La Salle counties, and very short in Frio and McMullen counties. In the eastern part of the region, cotton harvesting progressed well in Jim Wells County, with most fields averaging two bales to the acre. Only a few fields remained to be harvested. In Kleberg and Kenedy counties, hay storage increased with little sell-off, and cattle numbers remained low. Jim Wells County livestock remained in good condition with most areas of the county having good forage available for grazing. Soil moisture was short throughout the eastern counties. In the western part of the region, wildfire remained a concern in Dimmit County because of extremely dry forage and low soil moisture. In Maverick County, pecan orchards were in good condition with normal crop production. In Zavala County, cotton gins were busy with cotton from neighboring counties. About 30 percent of cotton was harvested by the end of the reporting period. Also in Zavala County, producers were planting oats, and preparing fields for planting spinach and onions. Pecans were progressing well. Soil moisture was short throughout the western counties. In the southern part of the region, 2 to 4 inches of rain fell in Cameron County, halting cotton harvesting. But cotton harvesting continued in Hidalgo County. In Starr County, scattered showers slowed hay baling, while preparations for fall vegetable planting continued. Soil moisture was surplus in Cameron County and adequate in Starr County. In Hidalgo County, subsoil moisture was adequate and topsoil moisture short.
South Plains: Some areas received light showers. Others remained dry. Floyd County cotton was close to opening bolls. Irrigated cotton yields were projected to be average to slightly above average. Dryland cotton was suffering due to lack of moisture the last couple of months. Hale County producers were gearing up for harvest. Wheat farmers there were getting into planting mode and will be running full-time soon. Cochran County subsoil and topsoil moisture were very low. The corn harvest continued there, while grain sorghum, cotton, peanuts, peas and sunflowers continued to mature. Hockley County producers were shutting off wells on irrigated crops. Dryland producers will likely begin harvesting in a few weeks. Corn producers reported average and above-average yields. Lubbock County dryland cotton remained moisture stressed. Pumps were turned off on irrigated cotton; yield potential was highly variable from field to field. Heat unit accumulation remained good. Cotton bolls were opening rapidly. In Garza County, cotton continued to progress but needed moisture. Most dryland cotton was in cutout and showing signs of stress during the day. Irrigated cotton was in good condition, but the entire cotton crop was behind in maturity. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in good to excellent condition. In Mitchell and Scurry counties, hot and dry conditions raised the risk of wildfire.
Southeast: Soil moisture throughout the region varied widely, but was mostly in the short to very short range with short being the most common. However, Brazoria and Chambers counties received substantial rain, which brought soil moisture up to adequate levels. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, but were mostly fair to poor, with fair ratings being the most common. Montgomery County hay producers were taking a second cutting. Armyworms were doing a fair amount of damage. Chambers County rice growers still had some late-planted rice in the fields and were harvesting as weather permitted.
Southwest: The region received some rain near the end of the reporting period, but much more was needed. Days and nights began to turn cooler. Pastures and rangeland continued to decline due to hot and dry conditions. The corn and grain sorghum harvests were completed. Cotton growers were applying defoliants. Livestock remained in good condition.
West Central: Hot, dry, windy conditions continued. Daytime highs dropped somewhat, but remained in the upper 90s for most of the reporting period. A few areas had scattered showers. Some field activities continued this reporting period, with producers dry-planting winter wheat and oats for grazing. Others were cultivating in preparation planting for grain production but will likely wait for fall rains to begin. Cutting and baling hay continued. Cotton remained in fair condition, but was showing signs of drought stress and maturing fast. Bolls were cracking open in some of the more stressed fields. Rangeland and pastures were declining due to the earlier triple-digit temperatures and lack of moisture. Grazing was very limited. Wildfire danger on rangeland was extremely high; 10,000 acres burned in Mason County. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. Producers planned to start backgrounding stocker cattle soon. Stock-tanks water levels were dropping and causing concern for livestock producers.