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Four-wheel drive, wide tires, tracks needed to harvest South Texas grain sorghum

Thanks to four-wheel drive combines, rice tires and a bit of help from Mississippi operators, David and Don Ocker had all their grain sorghum crop harvested by July 23, just in front of yet another deluge that would have kept them out of fields for as long as a week.

David and his father Don farm in Nueces County, Texas, an area that has been inundated with abnormally heavy rains all summer. Some areas accumulated as much as 20 inches of rain in July, about their usual annual rainfall total. That came on top of a wet June.

“We made a pretty good crop,” David said the day after they cut their last field. “And quality looks okay.”

That was a bit surprising given the rainy harvest season. “We got about 15 inches (for the month) by July 23,” Ocker says. “Amounts varied widely across the area.” He says some measurements may be conservative. “Our rain gauge only holds six inches and it has run over. But one more heavy rain and we might not have gotten the crop out.”

The Ockers hired combine operators from Mississippi to help cut the grain sorghum. They also used two four-wheel drive combines equipped with rice tires. “Some growers were using track equipment to harvest grain,” he says.

Wayne Miller, another Nueces County grain and cotton grower, says a wide-track Cat with wide, knobby tires on the gain buggy proved the best system for moving grain from inside the field to trucks.

Miller was only 25 percent done with harvest by July 23. “I'm usually finished by then,” he says. “Still, it looks like a pretty good crop. Yields are difficult to estimate since we can't always cut an entire field because some places are too wet.”

Miller was hauling grain a bit wetter than usual to get it out of fields before they got even wetter.

“It's been a challenging year,” he says. He also grows cotton and says the crop looks fairly good in spite of weather setbacks. Many Coastal Bend cotton growers say they had a great start on the cotton crop, possibly one of the best ever, until rains set in.

“Our cotton looks pretty good,” Ocker says. “It just needs some hot, dry weather until it's ready to harvest.”

He says pest management was not as good as he would have liked. “We couldn't get in with the spray rig, and crop dusters were backlogged.”

He says cotton stalks are high but there are “not many bolls. A mid-July rain hurt it. But the FM832 cotton often comes through.”

He says the grain sorghum crop had potential to be the best crop he'd ever made. “When it started raining it was depressing.”

But Ocker says the new spray rig will provide more options in other crop years. “Better crops are coming.”

Nueces County Extension Agent Harvey Buehring says crops could be in worse shape if growers had not taken advantage of opportunities to make timely spray applications.

“Weeds have not been as bad as they could have been,” Buehring says. “Growers had a window of opportunity in April to get a pre-emergence material in. Many also used Roundup Flex and Liberty Link technology to improve weed control in cotton.”

He says timely execution of necessary treatments prevented many problems. “Most growers did an excellent job in season.”

Buehring says grain sorghum varieties “weathered amazingly well” under heavy rains. “We also noticed no significant disadvantage for those who used Roundup to prepare grain sorghum for harvest. The stalks stood up well after treatment.”

Buehring says a lot of leased harvest machinery helped harvest the grain sorghum crop. It was needed. “Typically, grain harvest is 95 percent to 98 percent complete by mid-July,” Buehring says. “This year we were about 58 percent complete.”

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