Northeast Texas grain farmers are cautiously optimistic about the good start they’ve seen from winter wheat stands but say a lot has to go right between now and May to put it in the bin.

They are also looking hard at planting options for 2012, considering alternative crops to spread risks and, in some cases, reduce potential for feral hog damage.

Eight farmers from the northeast corner of the state gathered in Kenneth Griffin’s equipment shed near Howe recently to talk to Southwest Farm Press about 2011 results and possibilities for 2012.

Most made fairly good wheat last year but were not happy with production from 2011 summer crops. It’s primarily a corn production area but extreme drought and high temperatures reduced production significantly. They say they made some corn, but not much.

“We got a little more rain in our area,” said Mike Fallon, and made a little more corn. Good yields last summer were significantly below average for most.

“It seemed to be drier in the East part of the area than the West,” said Eric Akins. “I was actually surprised that we made as much corn as we did. We harvested early. We were done by Aug. 1.”

Scott Bourland said he made as much as 80 bushels of corn per acre. The yield had less to do with more rain than soil. “We had heavier soils that produced well,” he said.

For a drought year, aflatoxin contamination was exceptionally low. “We didn’t see it where we applied AF-36 or Afla-Guard,” Akins said. “That’s become a cost of doing business in this area.”

Those two products are atoxigenic strains of the aspergillus fungus and applied at the right time are able to out-compete the toxic strain. Widespread use is restoring buyers’ confidence in Northeast Texas corn, Fallon said. “Buyers have said they are willing to buy and pay a little more because we’re using these products,” he said.

Akins, who is co-owner with Griffin of a grain elevator, said buyers are asking about it. “We didn’t have any corn coming into the elevator this year that tested above 100 parts per billion,” he said.

The area remains in a drought. Area lakes are at an all-time low level and stock tanks remain dry. But they have received enough timely rains this fall to germinate wheat and get it up to a decent stand.

Fallon said most of his acreage “is wet to a foot depth. Our driest fields have gotten 3 to 4 inches of rain.”

“We’ve had light rains for the most part,” said George (Chico) Light. “We didn’t get a lot of runoff.”

He said most of his wheat is up to a good, uniform stand but the later planted wheat “is not up as well.”

“Most of our wheat is looking good,” said Griffin, who farms with his son Chris. “The later wheat is struggling a little bit but looks decent.”

Richard Sells said his wheat “looks good except a little on the end.”

“It’s a good start,” said Jim Swart, Texas AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist. “We planted at the right time, and we got rain but no hard, pounding rains. We have a good potential for this crop.”

He said wheat producers “planted all the wheat they wanted.”