Texas Field Reports: Tough Year for Grain Growers

    Sorghum harvest. Photo: Danielle Sekula, Texas AgriLife Extension

    Texas grain producers faced a difficult 2018 as natural and market forces aligned against them, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

    Drought conditions and high temperatures hurt production as low prices, all-time record yields in the midwestern U.S. and trade uncertainties created a tough market for corn and sorghum growers across the state, they said.

    Dr. Ronnie Schnell, AgriLife Extension agronomist, College Station, said corn and sorghum acres were down slightly, to 2.3 million acres and 1.6 million acres, respectively, mostly due to low grain prices.

    Yields were down for dryland acres of corn and sorghum while yields were better for irrigated fields, Schnell said.

    “Yields for dryland acres in most areas of the Coastal Bend, upper Gulf Coast, Central Texas to Dallas were worse than a typical year,” he said. “There were isolated fields that did well, but drought and high temperatures hit as plants were going into pollination and grain fill.”

    The Texas High Plains accounts for about 40 percent of the state’s corn acres, and 60 percent of the overall statewide crop.

    Sorghum faired a little better because it is more heat and drought tolerant, Schnell said. Farmers have also managed sugarcane aphids well with the use of aphid-tolerant varieties and due to vigilant monitoring of their fields.

    Schnell said most grain fields outside of the High Plains were harvested before rain prevented farmers access to fields. While rain is welcomed in the Panhandle region, it will delay harvest of grain crops in that region for a bit.

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    Dr. Mark Welch, AgriLife Extension economist, College Station, said grain producers experienced a tough year both on the production side and at market in 2018.

    Lower yields in dryland fields and a higher cost of irrigation compounded the financial impact to producers, and market conditions will likely worsen this season’s results, he said.

    “It was a tough, tough season for grain production,” he said.

    Sorghum prices were already low as trade disputes with China created more uncertainty, Welch said.

    “Up to 80 percent of all sorghum exports go to China, so that number went to zero for now,” he said. “As exports dropped off, other sectors came up, such as sorghum for food production, seed and industrial use, but again due to lower prices.”

    Corn was not affected by China, but other factors contributed to poor market conditions for producers, he said. Texas cash sorghum and corn prices held up relative to the futures market in Chicago this season, likely because of tight local supplies.

    “Texas corn producers took a real hit as they dealt with seasonal price dips and uncertainty in (the North American Free Trade Agreement), which was compounded by all-time record grain production in the Midwest,” Welch said. “It’s unclear what that production will mean, but it won’t help prices.”

    Texas grain exports to Mexico and Canada appear to be more secure at this point in the NAFTA negotiations, but Welch said the most positive news for Texas grain producers is the possibility for a good soil moisture profile next spring.

    “There hasn’t been much good news for grain producers this season,” he said. “But the rain we’ve been receiving is encouraging.”

    AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

    CENTRAL: Rains of 1-5 inches were reported. Temperatures cooled. Fields were too wet to harvest cotton. Volunteer oats were emerging, and producers were preparing fields for wheat and oat planting where possible. Producers were still fighting armyworms. Stock tanks were full or overflowing.

    Nearly all counties reported good soil moisture. Overall rangeland and pasture conditions were good in nearly all counties, and most counties reported fair crop conditions. All counties reported good overall livestock conditions.

    ROLLING PLAINS: Weather was cooler and rainy. Counties received half an inch to 10 inches of rainfall. The moisture was very beneficial to pastures, rangelands and winter wheat fields that were planted. Heavy rains also filled stock tanks and ponds throughout the area. Wheat fields vary from poor to excellent condition.

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    Pastures were providing plenty of grazing for livestock. Livestock were in good condition, and supplemental feeding was taking place on a small scale.

    COASTAL BEND: Wet weather conditions continued to delay field operations in most counties. A small amount of cotton remained unharvested. Some cotton was baled as fields started to dry in certain areas. Fallow fields were getting weedy, and volunteer cotton needed to be controlled. Aerial applications were the only means to knock back regrowth and handle stalk destruction where needed.

    Insecticide applications on pastures continued for armyworms. Producers were hoping to get another hay cutting before the first frost. Livestock auctions reported large runs. Livestock were doing well. Some pecans were harvested as weather allowed with yields looking about average. There was some pecan scab reported due to recent moisture.

    EAST: Weather changed from a summer drought to excess rain. Counties reported 3-8 inches of rainfall. Subsoil conditions were short in Marion and Tyler counties, while Shelby and Trinity counties were at a surplus. All other counties reported adequate subsoil conditions.

    Topsoil conditions in Angelina and Trinity counties were at a surplus while Cherokee, Marion and Tyler counties were short. All other counties reported adequate topsoil conditions. Land preparation was underway for winter pastures in Anderson County. Pastures greened up with the rain, and ponds were filling up.

    Cherokee, Anderson, Houston, Marion, Panola, Smith, Trinity, Jasper and Sabine county producers were unable to cure out hay. Cherokee County hay producers resorted to harvesting silage with remaining hay fields. Sabine County fluffers and tedders were prepared in case of a short harvest window.

    Pasture and rangeland conditions were excellent in Sabine, poor in Harrison and Marion counties, and very poor in Trinity County. All other counties reported good to fair conditions. Harrison, Shelby and Trinity counties reported cooler night temperatures that resulted in slowed grass growth. Producers were still feeding hay despite hay being extremely difficult to locate and costs for round bales at $65-$110 per bale.

    Anderson County cotton was mature with about a half a bale per acre, but rainfall was delaying harvest. Some planted fall gardens. Producers continued to cull cows and sell off calves.

    Gregg and Shelby counties reported solid and steady cattle markets while the cattle market in Henderson County took a nosedive with prices down significantly and cattle quantities up. Livestock body conditions improved to good. Hatchling, small and large armyworms were reported in Anderson, Cherokee, Henderson, Smith and Wood counties.

    Heavy wild pig activity was reported in Anderson, Gregg, Henderson and Trinity counties. High fly numbers were also reported in Henderson County.

    SOUTH PLAINS: Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels improved due to recent rains, but harvest was expected to slow down due to wet conditions. Some defoliated cotton had new growth and will require a respray once conditions allow. Rains caused stringing of bolls in many fields.

    Forecasts called for a high chance of rain, possible freezing temperatures and maybe some snow. Winter wheat continued to mature. Pastures and rangelands remained in fair to good condition. Cattle were in good condition.

    PANHANDLE: Temperatures were much cooler, and moisture was received in most of the district. Amounts ranged from a trace to 8 inches in some isolated areas. Fieldwork was halted by rains. Cotton took a hit from rains, and freezing temperatures in the forecast could put crop quality in question.

    Corn harvest was just getting underway before the rains. Silage harvesters were still active despite muddy conditions but not having much success. Winter wheat was coming along, and dryland fields should do well. Cattle conditions improved.

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    NORTH: Heavy rains fell across most counties. Most areas received 2-8 inches of rain on top of recent rainfall amounts. Cooke County received 38 inches of rain in the last 75 days, making it the wettest fall since 1991. Pastures were standing in water, and tanks were filled to their spillways.

    Hay producers were working to get a last cutting of hay. Some wheat and oat fields planted early were underwater or washed out. Cotton was waiting to be harvested. Fields were recovering from armyworms destruction, but sunshine was needed to continue progress. Livestock were doing well, and spring-born calves were starting to be weaned.

    FAR WEST: Temperatures ranged from lows in the 50s to highs in the 80s. Flooding occurred in most of the northern and eastern counties with some areas getting as much as 16 inches of rainfall, but counties in southwest parts of the district only received up to half an inch. Many playa lakes were at levels higher than in the last few years.

    Although rainfall arrived in time to prevent excessive boll loss for some producers in August, more than 80 percent of dryland cotton failed due to drought. Winter wheat, hay grazer and oats were planted and progressing well. A strawberry variety trial was planted.

    Winds caused pecan drop. Most producers were confined to inside work due to muddy conditions and were preparing for another rain event and a strong cold front. Pastures were improving.

    WEST CENTRAL: Conditions were wet with warm temperatures early and a cold front late in the reporting period. Additional rain fell throughout the district, causing flooding in many areas.  Soils were saturated and causing runoff. Creeks, lakes and stock ponds were full, and many were overflowing.

    Cotton crop conditions were declining due to excess rain and standing water. Winter wheat plantings were delayed. Acres already planted were in mostly good condition, but many fields had standing water that drowned out emerged wheat. Other fields were washed out and will require replanting once soils dry up.

    Armyworms continued to be a problem in isolated areas, however the only treatment option was by airplane due to excessive soil moisture. Hay cuttings were also delayed due to rain. Rangeland and pasture conditions were mostly good to excellent, with warm-season grasses winding down. Prices for stocker and feeder steers and heifers were steady. Packer cows sold $2 higher per hundredweight, and bulls were $1 higher.

    SOUTHEAST: Livestock were in good condition. Cotton farmers made good progress with dry conditions, but heavy rains in some areas stalled harvest. Producers were still on the lookout for fall armyworms despite decreased reports. Small-grain and cool-season forage plantings were mostly complete, germinated and growing.

    Rangeland and pasture ratings were poor to excellent with good ratings most common. Soil-moisture levels ranged from adequate to surplus with adequate being most common.

    SOUTHWEST: Moisture conditions continued to increase with rain. Rangeland and pasture conditions improved significantly. Livestock conditions remained good throughout the district. Rains made it difficult to get hay cut, cured and baled in a timely manner. Winter wheat and oat planting were delayed due to rains.

    SOUTH: Conditions were mild with wet weather in some areas and adequate soil moisture levels. Eastern parts of the district reported surplus soil moisture. Atascosa County reported very wet conditions and cooler temperatures. Peanut harvest started, and cotton harvest was active in some areas but stalled due to recent rainfall in others. Cotton gins were on a 24/7 schedule.

    Wheat and oat planting were stalled due to armyworm activity and rainfall. Fall armyworm damage was still occurring in some improved pastures and hayfields. Rangeland and pasture conditions remained good with some in excellent shape. Cattle body condition scores were good, and fall weaning was underway.

    Crops were in good condition, and watermelon and cantaloupe harvest were almost complete. Producers cut Coastal Bermuda grass for the final time. Pecan orchards were in good condition and near maturity. Some pecan harvesting began. Spinach, onion and cabbage planting continued. Cabbage made good progress, and some spinach fields emerged.

    Native range and pastures were mostly good to excellent as vegetation responded well to recent rains with an abundance of good quality forage for grazing. Livestock body conditions continued to improve due to forage availability and high-quality native rangelands and pastures.

    Some flooding from the Nueces River was reported. Deer and cattle breeders were planting oats for winter supplementation. In Hidalgo County, vegetables were being planted, and sugarcane and citrus harvests were underway.

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