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Two degrees above freezing can mean survival for crops

Two degrees – doesn’t sound like much, but that’s about all that separated Bob and Steven Beakley from crop disaster Easter weekend.

The Beakleys, Ellis County, Texas, corn, grain sorghum, soybean, cotton, and wheat farmers, could do nothing but lose sleep during a freak cold snap and snowstorm that hit their central Texas farm April 6 and 7.

“The temperature didn’t drop lower than 34 degrees,” Steven says. “We had some snow on corn leaves and wheat, but we didn’t get cold enough to do any damage,” says Bob, Steven’s father. The temperature began to climb after dark and pushed back up to 36 or 37. “We’re probably not hurt,” he says.

Glen Moore, Cooperative Extension integrated pest management specialist, says the cold weather may have helped area wheat. “It set back foliar diseases such as rust and powdery mildew.”

“We’re hoping for a good wheat crop across the state,” says Bob, who serves on the Texas Wheat Board. Early reports from areas hit by the cold snap indicate little damage to the crop. “We need a good crop; we didn’t make much last year.”

The poor 2006 crop necessitated some budget cuts for the Wheat Board’s research and promotion activities. “We increased the checkoff this year,” Bob says.

The Beakleys were still reeling from a deluge of rain when the cold snap hit. Moore says rainfall amounts the last week in March were as high as 15 or 16 inches in a two-day period.

“We had a good bit of erosion, especially in bottom land,” he says. Some corn and other newly-emerged crops were under water for several days. Damage estimates are still uncertain. “Farther south (as far down as Waco), farmers had a bit more damage.”

Moore says Ellis County farmers have some corn that’s yellowing a bit following the rain and cold. “A lot are applying liquid nitrogen to green it up. Most of the corn is in pretty good shape.”

He says many farmers will replace lost corn with grain sorghum “We got as much as 18 inches in some places,” says Steve Patman, another Ellis County farmer. “We got five or six inches the first day and thought we were in pretty good shape. Then we got at least as much again the next day.”

Some bottomland was flooded and he expects to replant some of that acreage. Overall, the area escaped the two weather extremes without much damage and farmers used a mid-April warming trend to replant damaged acreage, begin planting cotton, and add nutrients as necessary to bring crops along.

Bob Beakley hopes for a good wheat harvest, but the crop is not in the bin yet. A good fall planting season and timely winter rains got the 800-acre crop off to a good start, and with improved prices profit seems more likely than in recent years.

“But we haven’t done anything extra to make this crop,” Bob says. “We try to give our wheat crop everything it needs every year.”

Disease pressure has been light so far. “We’ve had as little disease as I’ve ever seen,” he says. “We’re using varieties resistant to stripe rust, leaf rust, and powdery mildew.” They could still apply fungicides to protect the wheat, if necessary. “But with nothing developing on the lower part of the plant, I don’t think we’ll need to.”

Moore says farmers should watch for armyworms over the next few weeks. “With the dense growth we have in wheat, armyworms may be attracted to the crop,” he says. Bob says the crop is “about past everything that could damage it except storms (especially hail). Overall, it looks as good as I’ve ever seen.”

Beakley said he lost about 400 bottomland acres of corn and soybeans to flooding the week before the cold snap. “We had 600 acres under water and 400 had been planted. We’ll have to replant that acreage. Some places washed down to the hard ground and we could get right back in, but other areas where soil washed up remained wet for more than a week after the rain.”

He says they’ll plant some of the washed-out corn acreage to gain sorghum and will replant the soybeans that were flooded.

And then they’ll wait and watch.

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