No Winter Wheat Without Rain


AMARILLO, Texas (DTN) — Farmers in Texas typically would be planting winter wheat in late August, but with no rainfall and fragile soil conditions, seed-bed preparation and wheat planting are just non-existent across most of the state.

“There’s no way we can sow wheat now,” said B.A. “Bob” Stewart, director of the West Texas A&M University’s Dryland Agriculture Institute. “It’s just so dry there is no moisture in the soil at all. We’re so dry now you can’t do anything. There’s no management system that will work with two inches of rain.”

The inability to plant between now and mid-September would translate into no winter grazing on that wheat. The crop, if it even comes up, would not have a strong enough stand to survive normal cattle grazing. So that’s more potential lost income, and more potential lost forage for cattle producers in desperate need of feed.

“So we have the potential to lose our wheat pasture grazing,” said Rodney Mosier, executive vice president of the Texas Wheat Producers Board & Association.

Cattle producers, range specialists and others also have been trying to get a feel for what will happen with winter wheat.

“We’ve been trying to ask that question at wheat meetings,” said Ted McCollum, an extension beef specialists out of Texas A&M in Amarillo. “We typically have a lot of wheat meetings this time of year leading up to the wheat planting season, as to what they are going to do … One of the opinions that we are hearing quite a bit is they are probably going to wait until the last minute to plant that wheat. In a normal year, with a normal rainfall, we may already have some of our wheat planted.”

The record drought that economists cite as having a $5.2 billion impact on agriculture hasn’t let up this week. There has been relatively little relief from rain.

Farmers will likely try to drill in dryland wheat before the Nov. 15 cutoff date. Prevented planting is difficult in a drought because that needed rainfall could still come. Further, a farmer who drills in the wheat, but ends up with a crop loss gets a better guaranteed payment than what prevented planting would pay.

With the amount of water, and potential risk for failure and temperatures now, some people are waiting until the last possible minute to plant that wheat.

To have any fall grazing in this part of the world, the wheat normally needs to be in the ground by Sept. 15.

“From a grazing standpoint, that’s what we’re dealing with right now,” McCollum said. “Are they going to plant wheat early enough that if we do have moisture there will be fall and winter grazing?”

Basically, a lot of producers are going to have to dust in the seed and hope for rain, Mosier said. “If we got a few inches they would be able to get into the field and a couple more inches they would be able to get it planted and get it up.”

Last spring’s winter wheat harvest was abysmal at 52 million bushels, compared to 127 million bushels in 2010, and an average yield of 26 bushels an acre statewide. Of about 5.6 million acres planted, only about 2 million acres were harvested.

Mosier noted that meteorologists are forecasting a second La Nina following the cycle that is just ending which was the core of the drought conditions. “So it looks like we are going to be hit twice,” he said.

Slightly less than one-quarter of the winter wheat crop is irrigated, and the majority of that is in the Panhandle. But winter wheat is not only competing with drought, but economics of other crops. Corn, which now matches the price of wheat, produces twice the yield under irrigation. Cotton also is attractive for farmers who irrigate right now and takes less than half the water as wheat along with limited other inputs.

Steve and Pamela Yoder, who farm near Dalhart, Texas, have reduced their wheat acres in recent years. They will still plant about 750 acres of winter wheat under irrigation, but the couple has begun to dabble in soybeans and cotton.

“If we can find another crop to take away from wheat, that we can make money on, that’s exciting, because we’re not the only ones,” Pamela Yoder said. “People have been struggling with winter wheat around here.”

The Yoders had never planted cotton before this spring, but the 120 acres under pivot could yield 750 to 1,000 pounds an acre, based on a recent test. They have no cotton history so they have no insurance or government payments for that crop, but the high prices are a strong incentive. A cotton gin about 70 miles away also is doubling capacity as more irrigated cotton moves farther north in the Panhandle as well.

“I think we will see more and more cotton as long as the price stays good,” Steve Yoder said.


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Posted with DTN Permission by Haylie Shipp



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