Wheat harvest struggling across the state

Kay Ledbetter, Texas AgriLife Today

July 8, 2024

Texas Crop and Weather Report

June 25, 2024 

By the time wheat harvest marched northward across Texas, conditions that initially led Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomists to predict a good wheat season had deteriorated in some areas, resulting in lower yields than expected.

For some areas, the issue was heavy rains, others experienced hail and some received little to no moisture fall during the production stage – grain fill.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, the Texas wheat harvest was estimated to be 74% complete at the end of last week. The May crop production report forecast Texas wheat production at 71.4 million bushels, down 8% from last year. Yield is forecast at 34 bushels per acre, down 3 bushels from 2023. Harvested acreage for grain, at 2.1 million acres, is unchanged from the previous year.

To see how varieties across the state fared in 2024, AgriLife Extension agronomists encourage producers to access Texas A&M AgriLife’s “Wheat Picks,” which will be available by mid-August at http://varietytesting.tamu.edu/smallgrains/.

Around the southern wheat areas

Brandon Gerrish, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension statewide small grains and cool-season oilseeds specialist and assistant professor in the Texas A&M Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Bryan-College Station, said harvest moved at a quick pace for the limited number of acres in South Texas.

“There may have been some lodging in fields from early spring storms, but harvest came early due to the very mild winter,” Gerrish said. 

It was a completely different story in the Blackland region and East Texas, he said. Continuous thunderstorms kept farmers out of fields, and hail and strong winds caused head shattering in the wheat.

“It has been particularly bad in the Temple/Waco area moving up through Ennis and into the Commerce area, with much of this area receiving 17.5 to 21 inches of rain from April 1 to May 31,” Gerrish said. “Fields that held up to the wind and strong rains have had greatly reduced test weights and some preharvest sprouting. I have heard of some wheat being rejected due to poor seed quality.”

Central Texas

Wheat harvest wrapped up in West Central Texas by mid-June, said Reagan Noland, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension agronomist, San Angelo. Producers there did not fare much better.

“Across the region, we did not meet the yield potential we had hoped for back in March,” Noland said. “Our critical time and growth stage from late March through the first three weeks of April was extremely dry, especially in the southern portion of the region. Rainfall generally increased moving north into Runnels, Taylor and Callahan counties and beyond, and east into Concho and McCulloch counties.”

The preceding crop influenced wheat production in the region this year, he said, likely due to differences in stored profile moisture and available nutrients. Wheat following cotton averaged 10 to 15 bushels, whereas wheat following wheat ranged from 30 to some reports as high as 60 bushels.

Then there were the storms, Noland said.

“We had an active storm season from mid-April through May and lost a considerable percentage to hail,” he said. “One grower I spoke with in Runnels County indicated that 40% of his acreage across the county was hurt by hailstorms that took 60-bushel wheat down to 10- or 20-bushel wheat.”

Noland said two of AgriLife Extension’s best variety trials in the region were lost to hail this year.

“We got off to a great start on the season, but overall, I estimate production for this region to be near or below average, primarily attributed to the dry spell and the storms,” he said. “We also suffered from the greater-than-normal stripe rust infestation, although this wasn’t as much of a factor in our region as elsewhere around the state.”

South Plains

Calvin Trostle, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension agronomist and professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Lubbock, said the wheat harvest in the South Plains was mostly complete. He estimated that some fields were likely harvested two weeks late on average because there were fewer combines in the region. Delays led to an increased risk of storm damage and lodging.

“It appears acres taken to grain were much lower in 2024 due to lower wheat prices and the higher value wheat and other small grains provided for grazing,” Trostle said. 

Rolling Plains

Emi Kimura, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension agronomist and associate professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Vernon, said the Rolling Plains should complete the wheat harvest this week or early next week.

“We have received rain almost every other week since harvest started, which slowed down the combines moving into the fields,” Kimura said. “We also had higher-than-average rust pressure this year, but yields looked good overall.”

High Plains

Jourdan Bell, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension agronomist and professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Amarillo, said wheat harvest is just starting in the Panhandle region, with most reports coming from central and southern areas.

Spring rains improved conditions for many producers, she said, but yields have varied as much as the rainfall received by fields, especially southwest of Amarillo.

“A producer from west of Hereford reported that his wheat ran out of moisture during the grain fill period, and his dryland yields were 10 bushels per acre,” Bell said. “Conversely, the producers east of Amarillo harvesting late last week reported dryland yields of 45 bushels per acre.”

Bell said wheat north of Amarillo was still drying down in some areas, but an early report from Ochiltree County was very positive, with dryland yields ranging from 40-60 bushels and irrigated yields greater than 85 bushels per acre.

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

A map of Texas showing the 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service districts.

A map of the 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service districts.

Central

The district experienced temperatures in the mid-90s with high humidity and scattered rain. Corn silage crops looked very good and crops that received hail and wind damage improved, but yields were predicted to be low. Cotton showed improved growth, but producers in some areas reported a total loss. Native pastures were in good condition, and hay was being cut and baled with good yields reported by producers. Wheat showed poor test weights, and oats were not looking good. Sorghum crops were excellent with coloring observed in many areas. Livestock were in good condition and grazed heavily. The cattle market remained strong. Grasshopper populations were beginning to increase to high levels.

Rolling Plains

Summer has arrived in the district with most areas reporting over 100 degrees and little rain in sight. Producers completed the wheat harvest, and cotton planting was almost complete. Farmers needed rain soon to establish a good cotton stand. Producers also reported increasing populations of flies and grasshoppers districtwide.

Coastal Bend

The district received rainfall ranging from 2-3 inches, and an EF-1 tornado was reported near Bellville. Sorghum was beginning to color, and corn reached the dough stage, with cotton bolls beginning to set. Later-planted sorghum yields were higher, and several acres remained in the field. Cotton also benefited from the rain, which will likely result in higher yields. Some lodging was reported in grain sorghum, and feral hog damage in corn and sorghum fields continued. Range and pasture conditions were good. Livestock and cattle conditions were good, and cattle prices remained strong.

East

Hay production in the district was in full swing since pastures and hay meadows were dry enough. Pasture and rangeland conditions were good to excellent with adequate soil conditions. Vegetable gardens were growing well. Fly populations remained a problem, and there were increasing reports of damage due to feral hog activity. Livestock conditions were fair to good, and the cattle market remained strong.

Southeast

The weather improved in most areas of the district with many areas beginning to dry out from recent rains. A few areas were still dealing with wet conditions and flooding, but many fields and pastures were drying out. Hay fields were growing well with cutting and baling beginning in many areas. Sunflowers looked good, and the corn harvest was complete. Bagworm and webworm populations were increasing on residential pecan trees with fly and grasshopper populations increasing as well. Rice looked good, and rice that was planted early should begin heading out soon. Pasture and rangeland conditions varied from poor to excellent and cattle markets remained strong.

South Plains

The district continued to receive significant rain showers, with some areas receiving more than 5.5 inches. Above-average temperatures accompanied by hot, dry winds with little or no chance of rain were in the forecast. Most crops were in good condition with corn thriving and cotton emerging in most areas. Producers also reported significant growth in cotton and sorghum fields. Cattle and rangeland were in good condition, with native grasses flourishing across most areas. Rangeland and cattle should make it through this stretch of hot and dry weather without any trouble, but corn will likely suffer if conditions persist.

Panhandle

The district received much-needed rain and improved growing conditions in permanent pastures. The wheat harvest was beginning in dryland and irrigated fields, and producers were planting warm season cover crops. Heat units were accumulating and contributing to noticeable growth and development of warm-season crops, especially corn. Overall soil moisture ranged from short to adequate and pasture and range conditions were poor to fair. Crop conditions were fair to good.

North

The district reported little to no rain and warm conditions with high heat indices. Topsoil and subsoil conditions were short to adequate, with some counties reporting surplus conditions. Winter wheat, oats and hay were being harvested, but yields were less than expected due to heavy rain. Soybeans were in good condition. Stone fruit crops were on track for the July harvest, and blackberries and figs were being harvested. Tomatoes were reaching the end of their bearing season. Pasture and range conditions varied from poor to excellent, and livestock were in great condition.

Far West

A strong cold front moved into the district’s higher elevations, and some areas received more than 2 inches of rain. Cotton replanting was complete, but a few irrigated acres were having a difficult time emerging, but plants ranged from the cotyledon to squaring stages. Grasshoppers, cotton flea hoppers, and lygus bugs were becoming a concern. Weed control was becoming an issue with the wind and rain affecting spray applications. Corn crops suffered due to the lack of rain, but sorghum fields looked good. Watermelon and cantaloupe crops were being harvested. Onion and alfalfa crops were doing well and being harvested. Grazing land was declining, but livestock were still in fair condition and being fed.

West Central

Warm and humid conditions were reported in the district, with most areas receiving trace amounts of up to 1 inch of rain from Tropical Storm Alberto, but moisture dried out quickly. Cotton was planted, and emerged fields were in good condition in most areas; however, non-irrigated fields needed moisture soon. Grain sorghum was in good condition and was setting grain or in the flowering stages. Corn crops were starting to be ready for harvest, and producers were cutting and baling hay in most areas. Pecans were in good condition. There were reports of increasing pest populations, including numerous reports of grasshoppers in some areas. Rangeland and pasture conditions were in fair to good condition. Sheep and goat producers continued to battle internal parasites and pneumonia due to the wet weather and high humidity. Cattle were in good condition and market prices remained strong.

Southwest

The recent rains provided good topsoil moisture but did not significantly improve pasture conditions. Growth continued in range grasses with Bermuda grass pastures being cut and baled. Summer grass growth was slow despite adequate rainfall. There were reports of pest activity, especially with webworms being reported in pecan orchards. Livestock were in fair condition, and cattle prices remained high.

South

Rainfall in the district ranged from very little to more than 8 inches in some areas from Tropical Storm Alberto. Sorghum crops were being harvested in most areas, with conditions ranging from fair to good. Cotton was doing well with the rain and producing bolls in most areas. Corn looked good and was close to harvest. Sunflowers and cantaloupes were being harvested. Hay looked good, and baling was reported in most areas. Pasture conditions ranged from fair to good and showed improvement from the recent rains. Livestock and wildlife were in good condition, with some still requiring supplemental feed in a few counties. Cattle prices remained strong.  

Southern Livestock

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