Texas Field Reports: Wheat Acres Down with Poor Prices

    U.S. planted wheat acres trended to their lowest since 1909 amid low prices and uncooperative weather, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

    Bill Thompson, AgriLife Extension economist, San Angelo, said prices for Texas wheat have been in a multi-year downward trend. Texas wheat acres decreased from 6.1 million acres planted in 2015 to 5 million in 2016 and again in 2017 with 4.5 million acres planted, Thompson said.

    Cotton is king in West Texas, and wheat is a secondary fall crop that producers typically plant in a rotation for grain or forage production and winter field cover for acres dedicated to cotton, he said. Before prices began falling, wheat was an additional post-cotton harvest income source.

    However, covering variable costs for fuel, seed, fertilizer and other inputs has been tricky for producers the last few years as wheat prices fell, Thompson said. At harvest this past year, wheat prices were around $3-$3.10 per bushel. Total expenses per acre could be around $6.25 for dryland wheat that produces about 25 bushels per acre, which is typical for the area.

    Producers could cut those per-acre costs by implementing improved wheat production techniques but would still lose money, he said.

    “At 40 bushels an acre you could get the total cost down to about $3.90 per acre, which you’re still not making money. You’re just not losing as much,” he said.

    The U.S. only produces about 8 percent of the global wheat supply, Thompson said, and the 10 percent drop in Texas wheat acres won’t have a significant impact on international markets.

    Thompson said timing and weather also played some role in the amount of acres planted. Rains delayed cotton harvests, and producers’ top priority was getting cotton out of fields.

    Subsequent rains prevented producers from getting into fields to plant wheat, he said, but prices and the futures market played a role as well.

    “Low prices did have some impact on supply and demand,” he said. “Some producers went with alternative crops like canola. In West Texas at least, you’ll likely see those acres going back to cotton this spring.”

    Thompson said prices could jump if fewer acres planted translates into low supplies amid high demand, but he doesn’t believe that with global surplus levels, any price spike would be significant enough to make producers take notice.

    AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

    CENTRAL: Pecan harvest was pretty much wrapped up. Above-normal temperatures caused cool-season grasses to decline in some areas. Lack of rain and gusty winds increased fire dangers. Some producers were top dressing small-grain fields with fertilizer hoping for more grazing.

    Livestock were in good condition. Some producers performed controlled burns on coastal fields. Supplemental feeding was necessary for livestock on rangelands. Soil conditions were dry. Farmers started planting corn. Pastures needed rain, and most pastures with ryegrass were grazed short. Wheat and oat fields were in fair condition.

    ROLLING PLAINS: Weather conditions were unseasonably warm, dry and windy in the district. Soil moisture was still holding well. Wheat made vast improvements in color and stand health. Farmers fertilized pastures with chances of rain in the forecast. Winter forage pasture continued to struggle with limited production all season. Pastures were brown and prime fuel for wildfires.

    Calving season was in full swing, so health and nutrition were being monitored closely. Protein and hay were being supplemented as needed. Canola appeared to be in good shape except for reports of aphids and worms in one county. Cotton was harvested, but some gins will be running well into March. An increase in cotton acreage was expected, and producers were starting to book seed.

    COASTAL BEND: Record high temperatures were reported in many areas. There was a chance of rain, which would help conditions. Soil conditions continued to dry. Limited moisture had some producers concerned. Preplant fertilizers were being applied to cornfields, and planting was scheduled to start within a week. Peach trees continued to bloom early.

    Phosphorus and potassium were being applied to hay fields. Winter pastures were in fair to poor condition due to moderate amounts of rainfall this year. Livestock were doing well and continued to be fed both hay and protein.

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    EAST: Dry conditions and unseasonably warm temperatures remained around the district. Pastures and rangeland conditions were fair to good with only Rusk County reporting excellent conditions. Winds and lack of rain continued to dry out topsoil moisture. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were mostly adequate.

    Sandy soils in Jasper County were dry. All counties were in need of rain. Cherokee County received some rain, which improved forage conditions. Ryegrass and clover in pastures were growing well in Smith County. Onions were growing well, and gardens were being prepared to plant potatoes in Smith County.

    Development of winter forages in Panola County slowed down with warmer-than-normal temperatures. Some producers in Anderson County were sprigging coastal Bermuda grass. Corn producers there were also preparing to plant corn. Vegetable growers planted potatoes and onions. Cattle producers continued to feed hay and supplement. Livestock were leaving hay to chase emerging forages. Most cattle were in good condition. Spring calving was in progress.

    Weaning and selling market-ready calves and cull cows continued in Polk County. Overall cattle prices dropped a little in Gregg County. In Houston County, cattle numbers were low at sale barns along with calf prices, but slaughter prices were up compared to previous weeks. Wild hogs continued to be a problem.

    SOUTH PLAINS: The district experienced above-normal temperatures and windy conditions with a high of 87 degrees on Feb. 11. However, a winter weather advisory was in the forecast with chances of snow accumulation. Moisture would help the soil profile following a month without significant moisture.

    Winter wheat was in fair to good condition, and growth levels were slow but continued to mature. Field activities included shredding of stalks and fertilizer application. Pasture and rangeland were in fair to good condition but needed moisture. Cattle were in good condition.

    PANHANDLE: Temperatures were above normal with normal temperatures arriving late during the reporting period. Soil moisture levels were mostly adequate. Deaf Smith County was hot, windy and dry. Temperatures were in the mid-to-high 80s with 25-50 mph winds. Winter wheat was holding on. Dryland pastures were marginal and producers started some irrigation.

    Field work continued at a moderate pace in preparation for spring. Hall County pastures and rangeland conditions continued to improve with warmer days. Cotton harvest neared completion. Yields and quality grades looked good. Cattle condition scores continued to decline. Cattle on pastures received supplemental feed.

    NORTH: There was no measurable rainfall in the past several weeks and soils were beginning to dry out. Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels were adequate to short. Temperatures were near or slightly above 80 degrees before a cold front brought temperatures down to seasonal levels. Winter pastures and ponds were in desperate need of rain. Rain was forecasted.

    Many wheat farmers took advantage of the weather to spray herbicides and fertilize fields. Corn and milo farmers were able to prepare seedbeds and prepare to plant in March and April. Cattle were in good condition. Calf prices held or were a bit better due to precondition sales. The cattle market was off again last week and continued downward. Wild hogs caused damages and continued to be a problem.

    FAR WEST: High temperatures were in the 90s with lows in the 40s. No precipitation was reported.  Windy conditions continued. Producers continued to make progress working ground for spring crops. Wheat was still making slow progress. Moisture was needed for wheat, pastures and spring planting. Preparations for row crops were underway. Supplemental feeding for livestock and wildlife continued.

    WEST CENTRAL: Unseasonable dry, warm and windy conditions continued to persist. Soil moisture was drying out due to warm temperatures and wind. Many counties have implemented burn bans. Some areas experienced dangerous range fires. The forecast called for rain. Some landowners started preparations for spring seed crops. Others were waiting for some moisture to help fields.

    Wheat was starting to grow due to warm conditions, but rain was needed soon to help wheat and oat fields progress. Cotton harvests were complete. Gins were still going 24 hours a day with about 90 percent of all cotton on the gin yard. Ginning was expected to wrap up within the next month.

    Rangeland and pastures remained in fair condition. Livestock continued to graze small grains and remained in fair to good condition. Supplemental feeding continued. The cattle market was steady. Yearling cattle were doing well. Very few cattle were being treated for respiratory problems.

    SOUTHEAST: Temperatures were above average. No rain was reported. Fields were drying out enough for farmers to get into the fields. Livestock were in good condition. Soil temperatures were warm and row-crop producers were waiting for expected rain to plant corn. Cool-season forage growth was progressing with the recent warmer temperatures. Many plants were beginning to leaf out. Hay consumption declined significantly.

    Soil moisture levels throughout the district ranged widely from adequate to surplus with most ratings in the adequate range. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, from excellent to very poor, with good ratings being the most common.

    SOUTHWEST: Weather conditions remained warm and dry. Soil moisture decreased slightly in both surface and subsoil levels. High temperatures caused early emergence of insects. Row-crop fields were being prepared for spring planting. Corn and milo planting were nearing. Wheat pastures were growing and providing adequate forage for wildlife and livestock. Livestock remained in good condition, and shearing of angora goats began.

    SOUTH: Conditions were dry throughout the district. No rainfall was reported for most parts of the district, and temperatures were unusually hot. Some areas received drizzling rain, which helped vegetation. The morning dew also seemed to help somewhat. Rain was in the forecast. Oats were in good condition, and 100 percent of the winter wheat had emerged and was under irrigation.

    Rangeland and pasture conditions were good to very poor. Potato planting continued in some areas. Supplemental feeding was steady to aid spring calving herds. Body condition scores on cattle declined some, but most herds remained in fair condition. Range plants that normally start growing in March and April were already blooming due to the warm weather.

    Corn was planted in Jim Wells County. Mesquite tree leaf growth was reported. In Zavala County, another dry week kept producers busy monitoring soil moisture and working on irrigation applications as needed for cabbage, spinach and onions. Supplemental feeding was active, while some green-up was occurring on native rangeland and pastures. Spinach harvesting was active; late-planted cabbage fields and onions made good progress.

    Corn and sunflower planting was active in Hidalgo County. Harvesting of sugarcane, citrus and vegetables continued throughout the county, and some pre-irrigation was underway. Beef cattle producers continued supplemental feeding.

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