Southwest wheat producers got a glimmer of hope for a crop that has suffered under a long drought since early fall as rain and frozen precipitation moved through much of the area in early March. They may need more.

Precipitation is sorely needed, says Gaylon Morgan, Texas Extension wheat specialist in College Station.

“I'm not certain how much rain we got but before it started the overall wheat crop was not in good shape,” he says.

Morgan says the latest crop conditions report from the National Ag Statistics Service shows the Texas crop as:

  • 1 percent excellent
  • 9 percent good
  • 27 percent fair
  • 32 percent poor
  • 31 percent very poor

“If we can get some moisture in the Rolling Plains and High Plains relatively quickly and have a decently cool, moist spring, then decent yield potential still exists. However, a rain in the next few weeks is critical,” he says.

“Stand is poor from Abilene up to Lubbock. And wheat that is up is only at a two- to three-leaf stage. It should be much further along by now.”

Morgan says he traveled through that area recently and saw few stocker cattle in wheat pastures. “We normally see a lot.” He says farmers are holding off on late winter management decisions until they see conditions improve. “Farmers are not applying fertilizer but are waiting for rain.”

He says if farmers in the High Plains “do not get rain soon conditions will continue to deteriorate.”

Wheat in the Blacklands and along the Gulf Coast is faring better than in other areas. “We see fairly decent wheat in the Blacklands.” Farmers along the Gulf Coast are also optimistic. “We're picking up some diseases, but farmers can justify fungicide applications at current prices.”

Futures contracts have been trading from $11.50 to $12 a bushel.

Northeast Texas wheat also looks promising. “Growers in this area have pretty good yield potential.”

He says wheat farmers in the Blacklands areas typically make good yields in dry years.

“Yields in the Rolling Plains and High Plains depend on moisture over the next month. Potential is still there if they get rain.”

Morgan says farmers with irrigation capability can “baby the crop along a little more.”

If conditions remain dry through March he anticipates much of the Plains wheat acreage will be abandoned and planted in either cotton or grain sorghum.

Oklahoma's main wheat production area received more than 1 inch of rain the first weekend in March. Western counties bordering on Texas did not receive rain. Also, moisture the last weekend in February made a significant improvement in the Oklahoma wheat outlook, according to reports from Oklahoma State University.

Agronomists say recent rains will help the crop break dormancy. Field reports indicate growers have applied fertilizer and other management practices to increase yield potential.

Yield projections are for an average yield, with best case around 130 million bushels. More conservative estimates put production at 110 million bushels, still up from the 98 million-bushel 2007 crop.

Volunteer wheat infestations are causing problems in many wheat fields that appear to be in good shape. Those volunteer plants could make the crop too dense and reduce yield potential.

Crop observers also say thin stands likely will have weed problems.