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Weather hampers Texas sorghum production

Sorghum producers are battling weather extremes from too wet to too dry, and in some areas, the perfect mix. Learn more about crop progress, plus the latest Texas Crop and Weather Report.

Kay Ledbetter, Texas A&M Communications

May 28, 2024

12 Min Read
sorghum
Sorghum emerging. Sorghum producers battle the weather to make a crop. Some producers have yet to plant. Shelley E. Huguley

The Texas sorghum crop is experiencing a variety of weather conditions, with too little rain in some areas and too much in others. But overall, the crop is holding steady, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Ronnie Schnell, AgriLife Extension statewide cropping systems agronomist and associate professor in the Texas A&M Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Bryan-College Station, said the Rio Grande Valley is very dry. As the crop progresses north into the Coastal Bend area, moisture conditions were better early and the crop is looking good. Upper Coast and Central Texas have good moisture conditions and good crop conditions. But further north and east field conditions may be too wet, while sorghum planting in the Panhandle is just about to start.

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Sorghum prices are not strong, Schnell said, so with the low prices, producers need to make higher yields per acre to maintain farm revenue. Timely rainfall in 2023 produced grain yield from 7,500-8,500 pounds per acre in coastal areas of Texas. The next month will determine how the 2024 crop will finish in South and Central Texas.

“We are expecting the coastal areas of Texas to have average acres, but statewide acres will likely be down depending on what happens with the Panhandle,” Schnell said. “We are expecting more sorghum silage will be planted in the Panhandle.”

Related:Time to consider weed control in sorghum

Sorghum pests, disease and moisture

Sorghum is planted as early as January and February in the Rio Grande Valley and then mid- to late-March in Central Texas, and in the High Plains it will be planted all the way into June. Harvest begins down south in late June and early July and continues into the fall in the Panhandle.

The Coastal Bend region around Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande Valley are the largest areas of sorghum production, Schnell said, with a lot of that grain exported.

Overall, reports from AgriLife Extension agents across the state indicated a range of crop conditions at this point in the season. Agents in Southeast Texas reported grain fields did not look good after heavy rain while fields in the Southwest and West Central Texas looked good. Sorghum fields in South Texas were experiencing drought conditions that agents expect is slowly eroding yield potential. Agents also reported sorghum aphids in South Texas, which could translate into additional yield potential losses.  

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Sorghum aphid, formerly known as the sugarcane aphid, is not the problem it once was, but the insect pest still shows up throughout the growing regions and can impact production, Schnell said. Sorghum hybrids now available, along with scouting and proactive treatments, make them easier to manage.

Related:Sorghum’s market demand going strong

In southern areas of the state, he said producers should be scouting for other pests, including head worms and stink bugs, and treating as necessary before they become problems.

It is still early now, but some areas getting a lot of rain may have issues with head worms or stink bugs as the crop moves into grain fill. The Coastal Bend and Rio Grande Valley were seeing some insecticide spraying already taking place.

Sorghum survives moisture issues

Schnell said the Waco area and north and east from there is wet, so some areas were delayed in getting planted and the fields have been standing in water. But because sorghum is a bit more tolerant than corn, the crop is expected to survive.

“If sorghum gets too wet, it will pause for a little while, but as soon as conditions improve, it will tiller and put on some size and recover some yield,” he said. “I’ve seen it before when we had corn and sorghum both flooded for a month and the corn might be lost but the sorghum can bounce back.”

By the same token, sorghum is also more drought and heat tolerant than some crops. So far, the growing conditions are good, but producers could use some more rain in the Corpus Christi area. However, the Rio Grande Valley is very dry, and the sorghum crop doesn’t have much time left to recover.

Related:Tiro Tres Farms celebrates leafy green harvest

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“They’ve had very little rain in the Valley this year and irrigation is low, so they could really use some rain there,” Schnell said. “They are not expecting a good crop overall down there, but there will be some under limited irrigation that could still benefit from some rainfall.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

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Central

The district averaged rainfall up to 4 inches with torrential downpours reported in some areas. The rain created flooding issues in areas that were saturated. A few hailstorms and heavy winds were also reported. Small grains were grazed out and hay fields looked good. There were reports of some fields of wheat, oats, sorghum and corn damage due to flooding and hail. Crop lodging and soil saturation also caused corn crop stunting and chlorosis in some areas. There were a lot of dead pecan trees reported in both managed and native orchards. Cotton was in good condition in some areas, but plant conditions were dropping in areas with excessively wet fields. There were reports of algae issues in stock tanks. Livestock and cattle were in good condition, and some late spring cattle work was carried out.

Rolling Plains

Some areas received multiple heavy rains, leaving limited access in low-lying areas until the ground dries to support heavy equipment. As the wheat harvest begins, farmers were gearing up to plant cotton. Soil moisture levels remained good going into the planting season. The rains and warming weather benefited spring and summer native pasture grasses as well, and few cattle were requiring any supplemental feeding.

Coastal Bend

The district reported rainfall amounts ranged from zero to 3 inches. A possible tornado knocked down trees and some limbs Thursday evening in one area. High winds also caused severe lodging in corn and grain sorghum in the northernmost and southernmost parts of the region. Corn and sorghum crops were progressing well but still needed significant rainfall to improve bushel weight. Cotton looked good but was starting to show signs of stress due to dry conditions and flea hoppers, which continued to be a problem for producers. Some fungicides were sprayed on corn and sorghum. Some rice fields were starting to go under flood. The warm season perennial hay harvest was in full swing for the first cutting, with yields varying from fair to good. In some areas, harvest was halted due to frequent rain. Range and pasture conditions were fair to good in most areas but beginning to deteriorate quickly in others. Livestock remained in good condition, but early market sales were occurring due to diminishing forage supplies. Ranchers may face tough management decisions soon without significant rain. Cattle prices remained near historic highs.

East

The heavy rains continued across the district with ponds, creeks, lakes and rivers being full or overflowing. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were surplus. Pastures in most counties were too saturated to cut and bale hay. Producers in some areas began to use baleage since it does not have to cure. Producers were trying to harvest winter annuals to reduce the delay in warm-season perennials. Pasture and rangeland conditions were good, and cattle markets remained strong in most areas. Houston County reported lower prices on feeder and plainer calves and Panola County reported a price dip on goats and lambs.

Southeast

The rain continued to fall across the district, including flooding in some areas. A break in the rain during the last few days helped dry some pastures. A severe thunderstorm event in Waller County produced straight-line winds above 80 mph, and an EF-1 tornado were reported. The wind caused widespread downed trees and fence damage to some areas, with minor damage to structures. There were reports of severe damage to the commercial green industry in some areas with multiple greenhouses reported destroyed. Fields were saturated and pasture and range conditions were poor due to the surplus of rain. The Trinity River was still high. In Jefferson County, sorghum did not look good and rice planting came to a halt as fields were wet and were not expected to dry out before June. Pastures and hay fields were wet and not much hay was harvested. Hardin County reported widespread power outages. In San Jacinto County, the record-breaking rain and flooding over the last few weeks left water standing in area fields, and the flooded forage was beginning to die off. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied from very poor to excellent. The strong calf markets showed signs of softening this past week.

South Plains

Rain in the district ranged from trace amounts to 2.25 inches. Most of the corn crop was planted, and cotton planting started. Early planted cotton and corn was emerging with adequate soil moisture. Winter wheat harvest was expected to begin in the coming weeks. The early planted wheat was in fair condition and the later planted wheat was good and benefited from the spring showers as it was heading out. Pastures continued to improve as the warm-season grasses came out of dormancy. Cattle were in good condition.

Panhandle

The district received widespread showers last week, and corn and cotton plantings continued at a rapid pace with favorable conditions. Silage harvesting was complete, and harvest continued on small grain fields. There was grain fill and maturity reported in the remaining wheat, oats or triticale. Pasture and range conditions were poor to fair. Overall soil moisture was short to adequate, and overall crop conditions were poor.

North

The district reported rain showers and storms, with most counties receiving up to 2 inches, and nighttime temperatures dropped into the low 60s. The topsoil and subsoil moisture were reported as adequate to surplus across most counties. There were some reports of trees being uprooted from the storms. Corn crops appeared to be behind due to excessive moisture. Blackberries and peaches were doing well and continued toward an excellent harvest while small farm vegetables were also above average due to the rainfall. Pasture and rangeland were reported from good to excellent conditions, with a few counties reporting fair to good. The warm season grasses were doing well. Ryegrass was seeded out and the first hay cutting will be made with drier conditions. Hay harvests were at a stand-still, but silage was being baled in drier areas.

Far West

Temperatures averaged over 100 degrees during the day and in the low 70s at night with some areas seeing rain. Rainfall ranged from 0.6-1 inch. There were some reports of hail, damaging some homes and vehicles, but no major damage was reported to livestock. The high winds and intense heat removed moisture from the top 2 inches of ground soil, causing dust storms that limited visibility. Cotton planting began, with Pima and upland cotton fields looking good. Winter wheat was baled for hay or grazed out by livestock, and rye was growing well. Corn and melon crops were doing well, and alfalfa was being cut and baled with some producers starting the second cut. Pecan orchards were being irrigated or prepared for irrigation, and foliar-fed zinc were being applied to trees. Pastures in some areas were beginning to green up for the first time since last year, while producers continued to give livestock feed and water in areas experiencing drought.

West Central

Rainfall in the region ranged from 1.5 to 2 inches with cool temperatures before turning hot and dry. Some areas received heavy rains in recent weeks, which led to runoff and flash flooding in some areas. Most fields were still too wet to work. Pecan trees were slowly adding spring limb growth. Grain and forage sorghum were in good condition and several small grains including wheat were ready to be harvested as soon as the fields dry out. Cotton planting was underway in some areas while rain slowed planting in others. The beneficial rains helped fill reservoirs and stock tanks. Pasture conditions ranged from good to excellent, but some areas reported pressure from weeds and humid conditions. There were sightings of grasshoppers in some areas. Predators were being reported in some areas and sickness was beginning to emerge in calves and small lambs. Despite some sickness emerging in calves, cattle fared well with the market opening well on all classes of calves and yearlings.

Southwest

Extreme storm conditions brought over 2.5 inches of rainfall and hail to some areas. High winds also caused some damage to agricultural operations, including downed trees and limbs. There also was some damage reported to building roofs. There was wind damage reported in corn, sorghum and cotton, particularly on the outer edges of the fields. Range and pasture conditions improved, though deep subsoil moisture remained a concern as many native pecan trees did not leaf out this year. Warmer, drier weather was predicted, and the evapotranspiration rates were expected to rise soon with higher temperatures. Wheat and oat harvests began with higher-than-normal yields reported. Cattle were grazing on pastures. Pastures continued to look good, and hay production was ongoing in some areas. Livestock diets were being supplemented and were in mostly fair condition. Whitetail deer does were starting to drop fawns, and bucks were active. 

South

The district reported very warm to hot conditions and rainfall ranging from a trace to 2 inches. There were reports of hail and straight-line winds that damaged irrigation pivots and outbuildings. Corn and grain sorghum fields were expected to be harvested earlier this year. Cotton planting continued, and planted fields were beginning to show growth. Watermelon harvest continued with drip irrigation taking place. Sesame fields were faring well. Oats were harvested, and wheat harvest was good in most areas while some activity halted due to rain. Hay producers were cutting Bermuda grass fields and should bale soon. Hay yields ranged from fair to good in most areas. Range and pasture conditions were poor to good. Livestock and wildlife conditions were poor to good with supplemental feeding occurring in most areas. Cattle were in good condition but needed supplemental feed. Some sale barns reported lower volumes with a slight decrease in feeder cattle prices while others reported strong prices.

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