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Wheat production looks better than the last couple of years, providing optimism despite low wheat prices. Learn more, plus the latest Texas Crop and Weather Report.

Kay Ledbetter, Texas A&M Communications

March 28, 2024

11 Min Read
wheat
“We’re setting ourselves up for what could be a really good winter wheat crop,” said Mark Welch, AgriLife Extension economist-grain marketing.Shelley E. Huguley

Wheat production across Texas looks better than in years past, providing producers some optimism despite low wheat prices. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialists said several opportunities could exist for cashing in on good forage.

Mark Welch, AgriLife Extension economist-grain marketing in the Texas A&M Department of Agricultural Economics, said while the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t start its national winter wheat conditions reports until April 1, updates from the Southern Plains, which include the biggest winter wheat-producing states – Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado – are showing conditions are really good, much improved from last year.

“We’re setting ourselves up for what could be a really good winter wheat crop,” Welch said. “Prices have struggled for several years now, with the lowest wheat prices in three years, but the counterbalance to that is what the production possibilities might be. If we are looking at dollars per acre, how much does the improved production prospects make up for weakness in the price outlook.”

Russia's wheat price influence

Welch said the wheat price outlook is tough and still revolves around Russia. A couple of years ago, there was concern about the invasion of Ukraine. Wheat prices skyrocketed over concerns about production and participation in the global grain markets.

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“But since then, Russia is supplying record wheat exports at really cheap prices,” Welch said. “That’s the overall price-depressing feature of the world market.”

He said the stocks-to-use ratio has been very tight worldwide. While the ratio is starting to turn around in the U.S., globally, the ratio is still tight. But apparently, Welch said, the market has determined “we are going to be OK in spite of those supply concerns we had at the beginning of the invasion.”

“Russia holds the leverage on the world wheat market, which is giving us lower prices,” he said.

Wheat conditions across the state

Jourdan Bell, AgriLife Extension agronomist, Amarillo, said while wheat is extremely variable in the Panhandle, “there is some of the best wheat we’ve had in recent years.”

Dryland wheat from Amarillo north looks great, Bell said. South and southwest of Amarillo, it is more variable. In and around the Lubbock area, some good rains are helping the wheat.

The region had decent moisture going into September, which helped producers to plant early to establish their wheat crop. The southwestern portion of the region, however, did not have the subsoil moisture needed to carry through the fall, and some wheat didn’t start coming up until February due to a lack of moisture.

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She said the needed winter snowfall did not appear, so the rainfall to date is only 1 inch in the western Panhandle and 2-3 inches in the eastern Panhandle. This has slowed some development.

Reagan Noland, AgriLife Extension agronomist, San Angelo, said good winter moisture set the Central Texas wheat crop up well and, overall, it is looking better in most areas than it has in several years.

However, he said, the past few weeks have seen some fluctuations in heat, and the crop is starting to dry out after several forecast storms didn’t materialize over the region.

The crop in the South Plains and Rolling Plains has received more timely rains and is in good shape. The Rolling Plains saw some wheat rust due to the abundance of moisture.

Weather concerns remain

The biggest concern across much of the wheat production acreage is the need for rain.

“Even though wheat looks to be in better condition than in past years, if we do not receive more rainfall this spring, we will have a severe reduction in production,” Bell said.

Noland also said wheat further south was needing the rain now while the crop is between the joint and boot stages – early reproductive stages that require water and decent temperatures.

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“We’ve had 100-degree weather in April in years past, and if it does that without rain, our wheat crop could burn up.”

He said the potential exists to produce a really good crop in some areas and average in others, but it all depends on the near-term weather.

“Aside from drought conditions, a late frost could also severely damage the wheat,” Noland said. “One old saying claims if it thunders in February, there will be a freeze in April, but another claims that budbreak in the large mesquite trees indicates the last freeze has passed. Both have happened here, so the signs are at odds regarding our risk of a late frost.”

Bell said freeze is a concern in the High Plains as well, with temperatures falling below freezing at the beginning of this week. Depending on the duration of the freeze and how low the temperatures drop, that could be yield-limiting.

Wheat has been in a joint stage for a couple of weeks, and if the duration below 24 degrees is more than two hours at this stage, there could be significant yield losses. But the condition of the field really will make the difference. Wheat in good condition can better withstand stress conditions.

Finding the best price per acre

Taking wheat to grain harvest might not be the best avenue for producers this year, Bell said, as the price of cattle gain has made it more favorable for producers to graze their wheat out. With an overall reduction in wheat acres, producers were able to charge a premium for grazing this year.

“A lot of our wheat will go to forage, especially if it is irrigated, or it will be chopped for silage and not taken to harvest,” Bell said. “We have seen an increase in wheat harvested for silage because it is a good quality forage.”

Welch agreed, saying there are multiple opportunities ahead if the wheat stays in good shape.

“People are wary of the Easter freeze, and that weather scare – just the mention in the forecast – could get us a bump in the market,” he said. “So, producers need to be watching for that opportunity to price some wheat if they are taking it to harvest.”

But if those dollars per acre are not adding up for harvest, there are other opportunities, whether it’s as a hay crop, a silage crop or turning out cattle with the record high cattle prices, Welch said.

“There is some opportunity to create some revenue – if a producer has good fences, good water and ability to provide good care, there might be some opportunity between now and graze out into the middle or late May.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

1-district-map-HR-web.jpg

CENTRAL

The area received rain measuring up to 3 inches in some areas, but some areas still needed more to fill tanks, rivers and lakes. Temperatures remained warm throughout the week. Pastures were green due to warm-season forages breaking dormancy and actively growing. Trees broke winter dormancy and began to green up. The weather encouraged small grain and native pasture growth. Producers completed or prepared for spraying weeds and fertilizing hay fields. Corn and sorghum started to emerge, and sorghum had a good stand. Some oats began to head out, while wheat was still a few weeks from heading. Some producers sprayed for rust in wheat as rust became a greater threat due to recent weather patterns. Those weather patterns also pushed back many farmers from planting sorghum. The cattle market was very strong for lightweight cattle, slaughter cattle and packers. Some supplemental feeding was carried out. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. Some wheat and oats were grazed.

ROLLING PLAINS

The Rolling Plains continued with favorable weather conditions for both crops and livestock. A few counties could use more rain to clear up sporadic rust issues on wheat, but the wheat crop outlook was favorable for most of the district. Stocker calves on wheat were reported to be in good to excellent body condition. Even rangeland/pasture cattle were doing well thanks to winter and spring annual grasses. Several counties reported farmers were starting to prepare fields for spring cotton planting.

COASTAL BEND

The region received 1 inch to 3 inches of rain, helping crops and pastures grow. Rangeland and pasture conditions improved significantly due to recent rainfall. All corn had germinated and was progressing well. Rice planting continued. Most pecan trees began to leaf out. Crops across the county are in exceptional shape and have improved with the recent rains. All corn and grain sorghum were planted and looked good. Most cotton was up, but there was concern that freshly planted cotton before the rain might have to be replanted. Livestock were beginning to show signs of improved condition. Calves were growing well. Cattle prices were still at historic highs and going higher. Cattle remain in good condition. Some livestock producers continued supplemental feeding.

EAST        

Most of the region was saturated with rain, leaving some areas too wet to work in pastures and fields. Ponds and creeks were overflowing. Smith County reported some flooding in low-lying areas. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate. Grasses continued to green up and grow. Livestock were in fair to good condition, with supplemental feeding continued in some areas. Cattle markets remained strong.

PANHANDLE

The Panhandle district experienced mild temperatures and no precipitation. Corn, cotton and sorghum preplant activities continued. Wheat was growing rapidly, and crop conditions were good. Some producers were preparing to start irrigating. Precipitation was needed. Cattle were being supplemented. Rangeland and pasture green-up started. Overall, soil conditions were adequate to short. Pasture and rangeland were reported from fair to very poor. Winter wheat was reported to range from good to poor across the region.

NORTH

Topsoil and subsoil were reported as short to adequate in all counties across the north region. On average, pasture and rangelands were reported as fair across all counties. Soil moisture improved with as much as 3 inches of rainfall in the past week. A light frost occurred early in the week, but generally warm temperatures encouraged grasses from dormancy. Garden activity was picking up in some areas, while wet conditions made planting difficult in other areas. Winter wheat was doing well. Corn that was planted earlier in the season was beginning to emerge. Windy and wet conditions hindered additional fieldwork. Livestock were doing well and relying less on hay. Some pastures were suffering due to the amount of mud and cattle activity.

FAR WEST

The weather was seasonable, with temperatures ranging from 65 to 80 degrees. Scattered showers were reported, with rainfall averages reaching 1 inch. There were high winds with sustained speeds over 20 mph and peak gusts of 40 mph that helped to dry out the topsoil. These extreme winds also brought an increased risk of wildfire. Corn planting was near completion. Cotton field work continued. Precipitation brought on a recent flush of weeds, which were being controlled. Livestock were in fair condition. Producers continued supplemental feeding. The water sources were thin. Beef cattle producers continued their spring branding season. Producers were starting to work lambs.

WEST CENTRAL

Warmer temperatures were accompanied by scattered showers across the district, with some areas receiving about 2 inches of rainfall. The recent rains have tremendously helped crop and pasture conditions. Producers were starting fieldwork for spring forage planting. Most fruit trees were blooming. Producers were busy preparing fields for sorghum/wheat and oat pastures, which provided grazing land for livestock. Producers were completing corn planting. Pecan trees were beginning to bud. Lake levels were dropping. Producers have reduced supplemental feeding over their livestock since grazing land was available. Cattle prices remained high at local sale barns.

SOUTHEAST      

Heavy rain fell across the district. Rice planting slowed down until topsoil moisture dried out. Ryegrass was ready for harvest. The recent rainfall and unseasonably warm conditions created favorable conditions for cool-season forage to break dormancy. Producers were completing corn planting and starting cotton planting. The ponds were full.

SOUTHWEST

The weather was relatively cool and mostly dry, with a few areas receiving spotty, light rain showers amounting to a few hundredths of an inch. In most cases, more precipitation was needed to impact crop yields. Row crops to the north have been completely planted, and about half of the planted fields have started emerging. Pecan trees continued to blossom. Range and pasture conditions remained good, as well as livestock conditions. Small grain hay production was not going well as wet, drizzly days prevented people from cutting. Corn and milo planting was complete with most corn emerged. Oats were headed, and most wheat was as well. Producers were preparing for fertilizing and weed-spraying pastures. Producers were heavily supplementing livestock.

SOUTH

Rain fell across the district, allowing rangeland and pastures to slightly green up. Strawberry plants were in full production. Growing conditions have been nearly ideal for row crops, pastures, and small grain crops. Producers were completing the onion harvest. Cantaloupe season was in full swing. Citrus and vegetable harvest continued. Forbs provided excellent grazing for cattle and wildlife. Livestock prices were holding steady but have recently seen a slight increase in cow and bull prices. Body conditions continue to improve for all types of livestock and wildlife.

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