March Came In Like A 'Hot'

Wheat crop now in jeopardy with each passing day in Texas and the Southwest. J.T. Smith

Published on: Mar 8, 2006

After more than two months of 6,000 pasture and range fires in Texas, March came in - not so much like a lamb or lion - but more like a fire-breathing dragon.

The entire Abilene region soared into the high-90s to welcome in March 1, breaking a 107-year-old heat record that went back to 1899. Up on the High Plains, it was no better, with Lubbock smashing previous heat records on both Feb. 28 and March 1.

Dr. Travis Miller, associate department head, Soil and Crop Sciences Department, Texas A&M University, College Station, says March will make or break the Texas wheat crop. Wheat is an extremely resilient crop, he notes, but most has had all of the months of drought it can stand.

Dr. Gaylon Morgan, state wheat specialist, says wheat has an incredible ability to compensate for low plant numbers by increasing tiller number and spikelet size.

Typically, plant populations at or above 10 plants per foot are considered adequate stands for wheat that has enough time to develop tillers, Morgan says. Nevertheless, late-emerging wheat, that winter wheat that had emerged after December 15, that is growing under unfavorable conditions of extreme drought probably will not develop many tillers. Wheat emerged in January is in real doubt.

"Wheat can remain viable in the soil for long periods of time, as long the seed never germinated," Morgan explains. "As time passes, the level of viability and vigor will typically decrease due to several factors."

Dr. Todd Baughman, Texas A&M agronomist, Vernon, says some Rolling Plains producers already had given up on their wheat crop by March.

However, Miller, Morgan and Baughman all emphasize that producers should be careful about destroying wheat to prepare for a summer crop.

"Before any crop is destroyed, visit with the appropriate agencies about your wheat crop and carefully plan your alternatives," Morgan strongly advises.

Wheat that emerged in October, November and December still could have the potential to produce grain if the root system has had enough moisture to survive to this point, and enough vernalization (chilling hours). Just like other winter crops - wheat needs enough chilling hours, and weather has been wildly warm.

Wheat that emerged after mid-January will need to be checked from early March to mid-March, to see if adequate vernalization has occurred. If it has, the wheat plant will joint. Even that wheat could produce some grain - with rain.