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By the end of June sorghum near Kerens in Central Texas was already changing color
<p> By the end of June, sorghum near Kerens in Central Texas was already changing color.</p>

Grain sorghum plantings up in response to drought, prices, aflatoxin concerns

Texas grain sorghum plantings are up by about 750,000 acres over last year. Prices remain strong. Less risk with grain sorghum than corn.

Texas grain sorghum plantings are up by about 750,000 acres over last year due to several factors, said a Texas AgriLife Extension Service expert.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s planted acreage report released June 29 projected planted acreage at 2.3 million acres, according to Dr. Calvin Trostle, AgriLife Extension agronomist, Lubbock.

“A couple of things pulled the acreage back up,” Trostle said. “Grain sorghum prices, which are tied to corn, remain strong. Also, the drought of 2011 reminded some people that corn has more risk involved than sorghum.”

Corn is a riskier crop than sorghum during a drought for a couple of reasons, he said. One, sorghum is more drought tolerant, and more likely to produce a crop when there is limited rainfall or irrigation capacity.

Another risk for corn that sorghum doesn’t have is aflatoxin development during dry weather, he said.

“Aflatoxin is just not an issue in grain sorghum the way it is in corn,” Trostle said.

Trostle expected grain sorghum yields to be “fairly good” across Texas. He also noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture report did not likely take into account recent re-plantings after hailed-out cotton. In the South Plains region, hail-out re-plantings alone could account for another 200,000 acres planted.

“As far as the High Plains area, we have a fair amount of sorghum that was planted in the last two weeks,” he said. “Some of that was primary crop sorghum, with a fair amount of acreage being put in after failed cotton.”

Trostle said on July 9 there was still sorghum being planted in the High Plains, which can succeed even at such a late date, though the grower has to select a hybrid with a short maturity date.

“I had a call just this morning from a producer who told me that his cotton was just 1 inch to 2 inches tall. He was debating just letting it go. I told him I don’t think it has a prayer of making anything he’d want to harvest. So why not just get rid of it, and put a short-season sorghum in? You’ll have some stubble out there for next year’s cotton crop, and the likelihood of growing something there with some cash income.”

Sorghum plantings in Texas have fluctuated greatly over the last 10 to 20 years, Trostle said. In some years plantings dropped below 2 million acres and in others acreage was in the range of 3 to 4 million acres.

Statewide crop conditions

Across the state, crop and pasture conditions vary widely.

Central: Hot weather promoted the maturation of corn and milo. Some sorghum was harvested for silage. Pastures were in good to fair condition but being heavily hit by grasshoppers in some areas. Some milo and earlier-planted corn was already being harvested. Most cotton was at the bloom stage to three-quarter grown bolls. Cotton needed rain. Plenty of hay was put up earlier in the summer, but producers were starting to worry about drought again. Irrigators were watering full tilt.

Coastal Bend: Drought prevailed in the southern part of the region. All crops were moisture-stressed. The grain sorghum harvest was in full swing. Most growers were reporting low yields. The cotton harvest was expected to begin soon. Pastures were in poor condition. The area could see more herd liquidations if drought persists. Grasshoppers remained abundant, eating grasses, ornamental plants and garden plants. There were spotty showers reported in the northern part of the region. Hay was being harvested in the northern counties with near average yields. Livestock producers throughout the region continued to supplement cattle with hay and protein.

East: Most counties reported 0.5 inch of rain or less. Houston County was the exception with as much as 2 inches. Pond and creek levels dropped. With the dry and hot weather, pastures showed less growth. Hay harvesting slowed, and some producers worried conditions could deteriorate to those of last year. Grasshoppers were problems to both agricultural producers and homeowners. Fruit and vegetable growers continued to harvest crops. Feral hogs were active. Cattle were still in good shape. Horn fly reports increased.

Far West: Highs were in the upper 90s and lows in the mid to upper 70s. Conditions remained mostly dry, and the windy weather was drying out what little soil moisture was left. Pastures were browning due to heat and wind. Winkler County reported high wildfire danger due to large loads of dead forage. In Pecos County, melon harvesting continued with excellent quality reported. Also in that area, the onion harvest was ongoing. Cotton was rated average to good in Upton County. Ranchers were still providing supplemental feed to their livestock. Herd numbers remained low due to continuing drought conditions. Producers shipped all lambs and kid goats.

North: Soil-moisture levels were very short to adequate. Continued hot, dry weather prevailed. Perennial grass in pastures still showed patchy damage from last year’s drought. The hay harvest continued but lack of moisture slowed grass growth. Irrigated cropland looked good. Dryland corn and soybeans were very moisture-stressed. Grain sorghum was coloring and beginning to mature. Grasshoppers were abundant and becoming a concern for many producers. Cattle were in fair to good condition but stressed by the heat. Spotty wildfires were started by fireworks.

Panhandle: The region remained hot, dry and windy. Irrigators were very active. Corn was mostly in fair to good condition. Some leaf scorch was reported in corn, as well as wilt from heat and water stress. Grain sorghum was mostly in fair to good condition. Cotton made good progress with the hot weather, and was rated mostly in good to fair condition. A few wheat fields were not yet harvested. Insect activity was generally light with a few reports of spider mites in older corn and a few pest problems in cotton. Rangeland and pastures were in very poor to excellent condition, with most counties reporting poor conditions. Cattle were in fair to good condition. Some producers were weaning calves early.

Hot and Dry

Rolling Plains: The region remained hot and dry with high temperatures above 100 degrees. A few counties reported that rangeland and pastures were in fair condition, but pastures were declining fast in many areas. Most dryland cotton needed rain. Grasshopper pressure increased, and some producers were spraying to control them. Livestock were generally in good condition but starting to decline. Many calves from the cowherds still left were being sold early. Some ranchers were beginning to have problems with water wells with dropping groundwater levels. Ranchers had not only to provide supplemental feed to cattle but also to haul water to some areas. Area lake levels were at about 50 percent capacity. Pecan trees were lost to drought.

South: Only three weeks into the summer and high temperatures were depleting soil-moisture levels. All counties in the region have reported short to very short soil moisture. Crops under irrigation were doing well. Those fields not under irrigation were stressed. Rangeland and pastures continued to turn brown rapidly. Ranchers were increasing supplemental feeding of livestock.

Stock-tank water levels were dropping; some tanks were already completely dry. Corn harvesting began in Frio County. Jim Wells County cotton was in good condition, improved with 0.5 inch to 4 inches of rain. In Live Oak County, harvesting the remaining corn crop was ongoing. Much of the corn and grain sorghum crops in that area were zeroed-out by insurance adjusters. In Maverick County, watermelon, grain sorghum and hay harvesting continued. In Zavala County, cotton progressed well, the watermelon harvest was completed and the grain sorghum harvest began. In Cameron County, cotton was setting bolls, and conditions were favorable for maturing corn and harvesting grain sorghum. In Hidalgo County, the sunflower harvest was mostly complete and the grain sorghum harvest was finished. In Starr and Willacy counties, the grain sorghum harvest was nearly complete.

South Plains: Temperatures ranged from the mid-to upper 90s with high winds. A few spotty, light showers were reported, which helped cotton as it entered the bloom stage. Irrigated cotton continued to progress well, but dryland cotton began to show signs of stress due to lack of moisture. Some grain sorghum was in the boot stage. Some hail-damaged cotton fields were being replanted to grain sorghum. Corn was silking, and sunflowers began to bloom. Producers were dealing with insect pests, spraying weeds, cultivating and replanting in some areas. Pasture and rangeland were still holding on in most locations but needed rain soon. Livestock were in mostly good condition.

Southeast: Rain helped forage growth, but some producers still had dry ponds. Hot, dry conditions were still limiting warm-season forage production. Dryland corn was drying down quickly and was expected to be ready for harvest 15 to 20 days earlier than normal. Grasshoppers continued to be a problem is some areas. Rice looked very good in Chambers County with most farmers spraying fungicide to avoid blast and other diseases.

Southwest: Dry, hot weather persisted. Pastures continued to decline. Hay harvesting slowed dramatically. Cattle were beginning to show signs of stress, and producers remained hesitant to restock. Milo and corn were drying down quickly, and harvest was expected to begin soon.

West Central: Continued hot, dry, windy weather took their toll on soil moisture. A few areas received some scattered showers but none were significant. Some grain sorghum and Sudan hay crops were harvested early due to poor growing conditions. Cotton was showing signs of moisture stress. Producers were irrigating where water was available. Producers were stubble mulching wheat fields in preparation for fall wheat and oat planting. Rangeland and pastures continued to decline. Prussic acid problems increased in summer annual forages. Stock-tank levels were critically low in some areas. Livestock remained in fair condition.

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at

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