Northeast Texas wheat farmers are breathing a huge sigh of relief as they harvest what appears to be a much-better-than-average crop instead of what many expected as late as six weeks ago would be a near disaster.

In the first days of harvest, farmers in Hunt, Fannin and Grayson Counties were cutting wheat averaging around 70 to 80 bushels per acre. Some reported fields pushing 100 bushels per acre.

“About six weeks ago we didn’t know if we would make a crop,” said Pat Fallon, who pulled into a field where his brother Mike was combining what appeared to be yields in the 70- to low-80-bushel per acre range and where Jim Swart, Texas AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist, and this reporter were analyzing yield prospects.

The crop got off to a bad start, farmers say. Drought at planting time delayed germination. A few fields received a bit of moisture in late October and germinated. Most fields were bare until a Christmas Day rain provided enough moisture to get the rest of the crop up. Still, the stand was ragged, non-uniform and offered little hope of producing anything close to an average crop.

And then three cold snaps seemed to have destroyed much of the wheat.

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We caught up with Mike by phone as he maneuvered his combine across the Grayson County field. “It’s cutting pretty good,” he said. “We’re making better than we expected from a tough year. A lot of wheat was not even up in January, and I haven’t seen any freeze damage.”

He was in his second day of harvest and said yields were running into the 80-bushel range in some fields. Early test weights had been low but the wheat he cut later was much better, closer to 60.

“If these yields hold up, I’ll be tickled to death,” he said. “This year we got fooled, but in a good way.”

Across the highway, Chad Wetzel was harvesting a field of hard red winter wheat. The Fallons grow only soft, as do most wheat farmers in this region because yields are higher and the stalks stand better. “Only about 1 percent of the wheat acreage is in hard wheat,” Swart said.

He added that the area is a good fit for soft red winter wheat and is “more like Arkansas and the Mid-South than other parts of Texas. We often see a six- to 10-bushel advantage with soft wheat. We may see more than that this year.”

Wetzel was also pleased with early prospects. “It’s cutting pretty well,” he said, also from his combine. “The hard winter wheat is a little rough, and it’s just getting dry enough to cut.”

“We have a good market for hard wheat in Sherman so we plant about half and half,” Wetzel said. “It’s an easy haul from here.”

He had not started cutting any of the soft wheat but said the hard was yielding “pretty well. It will not do as well as the soft, but we make up the difference with a better price.”

He was also a bit surprised at how well the wheat is turning out after the start it had and the late freezes. “We’re making a little above expectations,” he said. “About 75 percent of this crop came up after that Christmas rain. We had bare fields in January, and it was a little scary. We’ve been fortunate the last two years and stayed at profitable (yield) levels.”