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Texas wheat production average despite challenges

published: June 24th 2021
by: Adam Russell
source: Texas AgriLife Today

The Texas wheat grain crop faced a number of challenges this season from extreme weather to disease, but the overall expectation is that acres will produce average or slightly below average yields, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Fernando Guillen, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension statewide wheat specialist, Bryan-College Station, said this growing season was particularly unique due to drought or excessive rains in parts of the state and an extreme winter storm.

Texas producers planted 5.5 million acres of wheat this season, down slightly from last year, Guillen said. High grain prices could translate into good outcomes for growers this season and increase interest in wheat and potential plantings next season.

A June 20 wheat status report by AgriLife Extension reported harvest was 58% complete and that 24% of the crop looked good to excellent, 44% looked fair and 32% looked very poor to poor. Harvest was slightly behind schedule due to wet conditions. 

“In general, we’re expecting average to just below average yields for producers,” he said. “Last year, yields were below average with few exceptions, and this year there were fields that experienced major losses, but conditions are as sporadic as the climatic patterns across the state this season.”

Tough start for Texas wheat

Drought was prevalent in much of the state early in the growing season, Guillen said. Precipitation in major wheat production areas like the High Plains, Southern Plains and Blacklands was erratic throughout the season due to La Niña weather patterns.

In the High Plains area, irrigated wheat performed fairly well, while dryland fields were subject to a lack of moisture to varying degrees across the region, he said.

“The gradient of water and temperatures could be vastly different from location to location throughout much of the season,” he said. “For example, the southwestern area of the High Plains was for the most part hot and dry, while the northeastern area received more rain during the season. In the Blacklands region, soil moisture was sufficient at planting, but then conditions were dry during flowering, a critical time when plants need moisture the most, and then relentless rains set in and delayed harvest and caused other losses late in the season. But despite all that, it appears the crop will deliver average to just below average yields.”  

Guillen said warmer, drier conditions were a challenge for good stand establishment for wheat, especially in those instances when the crop was intended for dual purpose, forage production and grain. Lack of moisture can prevent germination and limit growth, and warmer temperatures during early growth can impede vernalization – the accumulation of cold units that propel plants into the reproductive stage.

The impact of the unprecedented cold front brought by Winter Storm Uri early in February on wheat fields, which were exposed to temperatures in the teens and single digits for days, was less severe than expected, Guillen said. Wheat is a winter-hardy crop, but there was concern among AgriLife Extension specialists and producers that the extreme freezing conditions might devastate much of the planted acres in Texas.

Wheat varieties display a range of winter hardiness, in general they can tolerate temperatures in the 20s for short durations of time, Guillen said. The concern was that although plants were still at the tillering stage of growth, with their growing point still under the ground, the levels and duration of low temperatures caused significant damage to the crop.

“Losses would have been significant if the crop had been a little farther along in its development. But overall, the survival chances were high,” he said.

The cold front delayed maturity of the crop to some extent, as it took some time for the plants to recover from the severe freeze, Guillen said.

Rough late season for some producers

The crop was also exposed to disease pressure as well, mainly stripe rust and leaf rust. Stripe rust affected the crop a bit later than usual in the season, but for the most part producers were proactive with their spraying.

Weather changed for much of the state in May as prolonged rains delivered moisture to much of the state with exception of southwestern parts of the High Plains, Guillen said. These rains helped the crop progress in some parts of the state but caused losses in areas saturated by deluge.

In the Blacklands, South Texas and parts of the Rolling Plains, Guillen said there were reports of sprouting grain heads and lodging due to wet conditions and producers’ inability to access and harvest their fields.

“Producers were vigilant with their wheat fields this season because they knew there was opportunity with such high grain prices,” he said. “Some likely caught timely rains and avoided delays to their management and harvest schedules and their fields performed well, while others were expecting a good crop after a questionable start to the season just to face relentless rains during the maturity stage of the crop.”

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