Winter Wheat Crop In Texas At Risk

Extremely dry weather across much of Texas has left winter wheat stands under severe stress going into the holiday season.

Published on: Dec 7, 2012

Dry weather just won't give up in Texas but has been stubbornly hanging on right into the holiday season.

The winter wheat crop has really begun to suffer.

"We had one of the driest Octobers on record in Texas, and essentially no rain at all in November," says Dr. Travis Miller, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service program leader and Texas A&M University soil and crop sciences associate department head. "Most stands are still hanging on, but they can only do that for a little while with the amount of rainfall we got."

During the last week of September, much of the state was fortunate enough to get in on enough general rainfall to plant winter wheat and get the wheat crop to emerge to a stand. But then the rain just quit. An exceptionally dry October and November set in. Any wheat growth has been limited, and stands are now a risk in much of Texas.

RAIN QUIT. In late September, an East Texas farmer prepared to plant small grains for winter pastures. After September, the rains nearly ceased for the state throughout October and November. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Robert Burns
RAIN QUIT. In late September, an East Texas farmer prepared to plant small grains for winter pastures. After September, the rains nearly ceased for the state throughout October and November. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Robert Burns

Most Texas winter wheat was planted within a window of late September through mid-November this fall, with about 6 million acres of wheat planted for the entire state, Miller reports.

Typically in Texas, because of the importance of the cattle industry in the state, about 55% to 60% of the crop is grazed for forage, and the remaining balance is just planted for grain production. But a whole of Texas wheat was planted on about 1-inch of rain in the topsoil, with no deep moisture because of the 2011 and 2012 drought.

Miller says for a number of reasons, the loss of wheat stands would create substantial hardships for producers. For one, hay barns were emptied during the 2011 drought, and many cow-calf and stocker cattle producers need winter wheat to carry livestock through the winter.

Another frustration is that 2011 was economically devastating for many producers, and historically high wheat grain prices had promised some great returns on investment. And wheat futures prices likely are to get even higher as Oklahoma and western Kansas wheat growing conditions also are not good.

As for grazing, if producers haven't already gotten good growth for early grazing, they're not likely to, Miller notes.

"The reason we get good growth on fall-planted small grains is warmer temperatures and longer days, and as we get into cooler temperatures and shorter days, growth drops off," he says.

It's not over.

"We can still make a decent wheat crop, don't be mistaken about that," he says. "If we can just keep the stands alive through the winter, and if we get some snowfall or rainfall in the spring, then it can come around."