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Drought limits wheat emergence in some areas while in others the crop is off to a good start. Oklahoma and Texas specialists provide Farm Press a crop update.

Ron Smith, Editor

January 26, 2023

4 Min Read
wheat-emerging-drought
Drought continues to impact Southwest crops, including wheat.Shelley E. Huguley

Crop progress for wheat in critical production areas might have inched up a bit from December through January but a long and lingering drought continues to threaten production.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension economist Mark Welch in a recent Wheat Outlook report noted the latest USDA Crop Progress report shows at the beginning of January, Kansas wheat in combined good and excellent categories was rated at 19%, down from 22% at the beginning of December.

For Colorado wheat, 54% was rated good and excellent on January 1, up from 30% in late November.

The January 3 Oklahoma Crop Progress and Condition report showed 38% of the wheat crop in good and excellent condition, up from 31% from the last report in November.

Weather factors

Welch said weather remains a threat. “Although drought conditions have eased somewhat in East Texas since the first of the year, little has changed for Kansas, Oklahoma, and the Texas Panhandle.

“The Drought Severity Coverage Index for the Southern Plains has increased from 224 to 234. The area in some degree of drought has increased from 81% to 85%. The area in ‘extreme’ and ‘exceptional’ drought combined has increased from 25% to 26%.”

Texas outlook

Ben Scholz, who farms in Northeast Texas keeps tabs on conditions across the state through various leadership positions in the wheat industry. He says his area will see reduced acreage.

“Central Texas and Northeast Texas has very little wheat due to excess moisture during our planting period,” he said. “Also, Hessian fly damaged wheat in Central Texas. Some of this acreage has been plowed out.” 

Scholz said irrigated wheat in the Texas Panhandle looks good. “Dryland is yet to emerge but has gotten moisture, so we will have to see later in the season. 

“Rolling Plains wheat looks good. Also, a lot of cotton country from Lubbock south is planted in wheat. Farmers took advantage of a combination of fall moisture and a need for cover to protect soil from blowing sand, a result of earlier drought. Maybe this will go to harvest?”

Oklahoma

Southwest Farm Press Editor Shelley Huguley caught up with Oklahoma State University Area Extension Agronomist Josh Bushong, Enid, at the recent Red River Crops Conference in Childress, Texas.

“It’s been hurry up and wait,” Bushong said in a video recording. “A lot of producers who tried to get fall wheat pasture going missed out on adequate rainfall to get a stand established. Some got early wheat up and going, and that still has a little bit of size to it. Some producers are stocking cattle a bit lighter.”

He said some chose not to stock anything on a lot of acres.

“We are lacking in forage production.”

He said drought limited emergence. “We started getting some rains and finally got a stand; then soil temperature dropped and we haven't seen a lot of growth on it. We’re concerned about thinner stands with delayed emergence.”

He said insect pests were not an issue early, but “we’re beginning to see some light infestations here and there.”

Weeds are a bigger concern. He said typically producers see the first flush of weeds before they plant wheat. “Delayed rainfall hindered stand establishment, so weed flush came on with the crop. Weeds are competing with the wheat.”

Bushong said producers should identify weed species and make herbicide applications “as early as you can.”

Delayed green-up

Spring green-up is delayed in some areas, he said. “North of I-40, we haven't had spring green-up yet. Down here we're starting to see some wheat starting to grow.”

Bushong said low soil temperatures have not allowed wheat to take off. “At temperatures in the lower 50s wheat goes dormant. When soil temperatures come up, if we get rain, we will get some spring growth. Now, we’re behind schedule.

Evaluate stands

“It’s time to start focusing pretty heavy on topdress applications,” he added. “But the biggest thing now is to evaluate stands and determine grain potential.”

He said some farmers are trying to fill in thinner stands, overseeding to thicken them up. “A few have planted spring oats to get some spring pasture or spring hay production.”

He said producers who bumped up seeding rates likely will have more tillers and enough heads per acre to support grain production.

“For those with thinner stands, if they get rain this spring, everything will tiller and fill in. But if we go another 60 days with no rain, we will have a short crop. That's our biggest concern.”

Evaluate returns

Bushong said producers need to look hard at economics as they consider managing the crop. “Consider how much money you can afford to put into this crop. Herbicides aren't getting any cheaper; nitrogen might have gone down a little bit, but that's still a lot of input producers will want to see a return from.”

Assuming producers make a crop, Welch said, “the seasonal price pattern of the July Kansas City wheat contract shows in-season price strength is often associated with the crop condition in February/March as the crop breaks dormancy and April/May with late-season weather risk.”

About the Author(s)

Ron Smith

Editor, Farm Progress

Ron Smith has spent more than 30 years covering Sunbelt agriculture. Ron began his career in agricultural journalism as an Experiment Station and Extension editor at Clemson University, where he earned a Masters Degree in English in 1975. He served as associate editor for Southeast Farm Press from 1978 through 1989. In 1990, Smith helped launch Southern Turf Management Magazine and served as editor. He also helped launch two other regional Turf and Landscape publications and launched and edited Florida Grove and Vegetable Management for the Farm Press Group. Within two years of launch, the turf magazines were well-respected, award-winning publications. Ron has received numerous awards for writing and photography in both agriculture and landscape journalism. He is past president of The Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association and was chosen as the first media representative to the University of Georgia College of Agriculture Advisory Board. He was named Communicator of the Year for the Metropolitan Atlanta Agricultural Communicators Association. Smith also worked in public relations, specializing in media relations for agricultural companies. Ron lives with his wife Pat in Denton, Texas. They have two grown children, Stacey and Nick, and two grandsons, Aaron and Hunter.

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