In some places it’s been too dry; in some places it’s been too wet; in most places a late freeze hampered the Southwest winter wheat crop.
Some farmers say it’s just another typical year in Southwest agriculture where Mother Nature is always prone to throw a kink in the best of plans.
Wheat farmers in Northeast Texas, an area that typically produces exceptional yields of soft red winter wheat, say they had a near-perfect planting season last fall and good progress through the winter. A promising crop was coming along with the added bonus of a promising market.
Now, they’re having trouble harvesting that crop.
“We’re trying to harvest now,” said Grayson County farmer Chad Wetzel, in early June. “But we have been absolutely pounded by rain for the last 60 days or so. We’ve cut about 30 acres, so far.”
Wetzel says the ground is so wet he’s putting tracks on one combine. He’s not happy about what harvesting on wet ground will do to his fields. “As soon as we go through the field, the ruts fill with water. I had planned on planting some doublecrop soybeans behind wheat, but the fields will be so rutted we can’t do that.
“Planting season for wheat and corn went well,” he added. “For the first time in a couple of years, we got our full planned acreages planted.
“It went well this season, really well for wheat. This area planted a ton of wheat this year because planting season was so favorable.”
Corn went in well, too, he added. “Things looked good early on, a good stand of corn. It was growing well, and then it started raining.”
“We also got a freeze April 21, one of the latest freezes on record. That hurt wheat, right in the middle of various stages of pollination. We are seeing some freeze damage.”
How bad, he says, is hard to assess. “Any time we have light to moderate freeze damage, it’s hard to put a percentage loss on it, but we will have some damage, depending on variety or planting date.”
The persistent rains started in late March “and haven’t quit. We’ve had maybe three to five decent field-working days since then, and those days were on the edge of too wet.
“It has been a huge struggle to get things done — applying fungicide to wheat and herbicides and fertilizer on corn.”
He says some farmers sidedressed early, just after corn came up. “We decided to wait. We’re using Y-drops and can wait later to apply nitrogen, but this year, we’re behind and can’t get sidedress nitrogen on.”
He says a few farmers have flown on nitrogen to save the corn, but the soil has remained saturated, so he’s not sure it did much good. “The bottom leaves on corn are yellow, plants are stunted and short. Corn is just not able to get oxygen or take up nutrients.”
Wetzel says folks have few options other than flying on nitrogen, “and that’s expensive.”
The corn is likely a lost cause at this point, he said. “We decided we can’t do a whole lot to get the corn up to the insurance guarantee yield, so we decided not to throw good money after bad. We always want to make a crop, so it’s never an easy decision. This is the first time in my career than I pulled the plug on a crop.”
He says they never want to file an insurance claim on a crop. “But we’re thankful we have it. This is why we pay the premiums.”
Wheat holding up
He hasn’t seen a decline in wheat quality yet, but he’s concerned. “We’re just getting ready to harvest and I have not seen sprouts, but 3 inches of rain fell over the last two days.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we will see decent quality wheat. The seven-to-ten-day forecast looks better with sunshine, heat, and no rain. We hope to get harvest fired up.”
Wetzel says wet conditions are tougher to manage than drought. “My granddad, who farmed back in the 40s, said wet weather cost him more money than dry weather.
“We have management strategies we can employ in drought — cut seeding rate and pare back other expenses. And we can do some work on time; with flood, we can only sit and watch it. If we get in the field, we tear up the ground and ruin equipment. It’s a stressful situation.”
Stress in the Texas High Plains is different. It’s been dry.
“Our wheat looks pretty good,” says Wilderado farmer Dale Artho. “Dryland could make up to 30 bushels per acre. It’s a little thin.”
Artho says conditions were dry until about a month ago. “Then the spigot changed. We’ve had no big rains but 3/100ths to 4/100ths, up to 7/10. Our biggest rain was just over 1 inch. It all soaked in, but the soils are not completely recharged.”
Artho said winter snowfall was light, too. “We had very little snow over the winter, and snow and then a wet May makes wheat in this area.”
He said one field was tagged for hay. “But after the rain, it looks likely to make yield above insurance guarantee. With the market where it is, harvesting for grain looks like a better option.”
Artho said summer crops have a long way to go. He was planting sorghum as he talked. He said cotton is up, corn is up and some sorghum in the area has emerged.
“The irrigated wheat looks very good. Also, rye [a new enterprise] looks good.” He says stalks are so tall they cover irrigation sprinkler wheels.
He’s planting rye and barley and a few different wheat varieties to run through a malt house his son has built.
“We also put some sorghum through the malthouse,” he says. Malt goes to micro-breweries and distilleries.
Artho says the High Plains has become more of a forage production area over the past few years instead of grain because of dairies and feedlots.
“We have an outlet for a wheat and rye by-product,” he said. “We are baling straw as bedding for dairies. They like the rye because of long stalks.”
He’s gotten away from field corn, too. “I have a little white, food-grade, corn. It’s off to decent start, even without subsoil moisture.”
Drought and water availability are big concerns. “We do not have a full moisture profile, so we will have to irrigate more than we would like to.”
Ben Scholz was looking at clearer skies and a promising forecast June 10, but he still needed to repair a set of tracks for his combine. He was hoping to be in the field harvesting a promising crop within a few days. “It looks like the weather has broken,” he said.
Scholz farms in Collin and Hunt Counties.
He said the crop is promising, despite the torrential rains. “Grain quality and yield look good,” he said. The late cool, wet conditions helped fill out the heads. “I checked heads about three weeks ago. Usually, we see three kernels forming at that stage. I saw a lot with a fourth kernel filling, so that’s a good sign. I think we have potential for a 60 to 70-bushel yield.
“So far, I have seen no issues with sprouting. The cooler weather and delayed maturity probably helped,” he said. Scholz said farmers from the Dallas-Fort Worth area and south to Waco, are well into harvest. “Several down that way say they have not seen sprouting issues, either.”
Texas wheat producer Ben Scholz (Photo by Ron Smith)
Scholz agrees with Wetzel’s observation that Northeast Texas farmers increased wheat acreage this year. “We had a good, open fall to plant. Most farmers in the area have adopted a corn/wheat rotation. A few are planting milo, and a few are planting soybeans around Paris. We still have a pocket of cotton.
“I try to stay evenly split with wheat and corn, but for one reason or another usually end up with something like 60/40.”
He says corn prospects are mixed, depending on the soils. “We got it planted okay and have an excellent stand. After three to four weeks of rain, fields show a lot of variability. Well-drained fields look good. Corn in fields that do not drain well is short and yellowing.”
He said some farmers are applying aflatoxin preventive products by air and adding urea.
“I’m thinking about adding some foliar fertilizer and some micro-nutrients, but so far, it’s just thinking, not acting.”
Scholz hoped to be harvesting wheat by early the following week. He remains optimistic. “The potential is there,” he said.