Southwest wheat production could be off by 50 percent from last year, a victim of the double disasters of prolonged drought and late freezing temperatures.

“A 50 percent crop loss is likely across the state,” says Gaylon Morgan, Texas AgriLife Extension small grains specialist. He said the 60-million bushel crop estimate from the Texas Agricultural Statistics Service puts the crop about half of last year's.

The situation is not much better is Oklahoma where Extension small grains specialist Jeff Edwards estimates the crop could be down 40 percent to 50 percent from last year’s “bumper crop.”

“Farmers had some damage from the March freeze,” Edwards says, “but not a lot. The April freeze hammered us.”

He says the real story in southwest Oklahoma was not the cold snap, but the drought that extended from late last summer through early spring.

“The freeze just put it out of its misery."

Conditions vary from region to region and from one field to another, Morgan says. “A lot depended on growth stage when the two freezes hit (one in late March and another in early April).

Morgan says Brent Bean, Extension agronomist in Amarillo, reports irrigated wheat north of Amarillo is in pretty good shape. “Freeze damage there will depend on growth stage." Dryland wheat north of Amarillo had very little freeze damage and should make a “fair” crop.

It’s not as good to the south where drought limited growth.

Rolling Plains wheat was hit hard by drought and cold weather, Morgan says. “Todd Baughman, Extension specialist at Vernon, says more than half the crop will not be harvested. He says a lot of wheat will make in the 10 to 15 bushel per acre range with a lot below 10 bushels. Some farmers will have to harvest, just for insurance purposes.”

Farmers attending two recent clinics near Vernon indicated wheat conditions “all over the board.”

Morgan says potential for Concho Valley (near Abilene) area wheat is poor. “They had a lot of wheat destroyed before the freeze because of prolonged drought. Some fields had 20 bushel potential to begin with and the freeze knocked it to zero.”

He says similar conditions exist in the Southern Blacklands where losses range from 10 percent to 20 percent, and even to 100 percent. Growth stage at the freeze date made the difference.

Morgan says Central Texas wheat conditions are also “all over the board. After the first freeze, farmers were surprised at the extent of the damage. The second one hit even harder. We expect 30 percent or more of the crop in Central Texas will be lost.”

He says some fields “sneaked by. But other fields with as much as an 80 bushel per acre yield potential will be down to zero.”

Areas north of Dallas also were hard hit by the cold snap. “Folks in Cook County are not optimistic.”

Jim Swart, Extension IPM specialist in Commerce, says damage in Northeast Texas ranges from “virtually no damage to 100 percent loss.” He says damage was most severe on the most mature wheat and also in low lying fields.

“We experienced a hard freeze across the region on the morning of April 7,” Swart says. “By all accounts, the coldest air was measured between 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. The lowest temperatures observed in the Hunt county area were 29 degrees to 30 degrees F; however, temperatures as low as 26 degrees were recorded west of US Highway 75 in western Collin and eastern Denton counties.”

Curtis Jones, Extension agronomist at Commerce, says the wheat crop was exposed to low temperatures for around two hours. “Wheat cannot tolerate temperatures below 28 degrees at boot stage or later. At boot stage (Feekes 10), wheat can tolerate temperatures down to 28 degrees for around two hours; however, increased exposure will cause injury. Temperatures of 30 degrees at heading can cause injury through floret sterility, awn damage, and frozen stems.

“Flowering wheat is the most sensitive to cold, with temperatures of 32 degrees causing floret sterility. After pollination, wheat can again often tolerate lower temperatures before severe damage occurs (28 to 30 degrees).”

Swart says producers west of US 75 sustained more freeze damage than those east of US 75. “Many fields east of US 75 experienced minimal to no freeze damage, especially those at higher elevations.

“Fields with freeze damaged heads throughout may be problematic. Plants with freeze damaged heads are unaffected otherwise, and will act as ‘weeds’ in competition with later tillers for moisture, fertility and sunlight. This is probably why freeze damaged wheat is usually lower in test weight than undamaged wheat.”“

Edwards says the worst damage appears to be in southwest Oklahoma. “The area from Kingfisher up to Highway 51 looks to have from 50 percent to 70 percent loss, maybe more. Up to Enid, loss is 40 percent to 50 percent.”

Edwards said most of Oklahoma’s 2009 wheat crop will come from the northern tier of counties where damage is estimated at “10 percent or less.”

Swart and Jones say heavily damaged wheat can be harvested for hay and/or replanted to another crop. If harvested for hay, the crop should be checked for nitrates to avoid toxicity to livestock. Awned wheat (bearded) is less desirable for feeding livestock, and can cause actinomycosis (lumpy jaw).

They say the best replant options this late are soybeans or grain sorghum.

“If a sulfonylurea herbicide (SU) like metsulfuron (Ally, etc.) or Amber was used on the wheat, grain sorghum is not an option,” Swart says. “The only real crop option following an SU herbicide is STS soybeans (sulfonylurea tolerant). In any case, producers with crop insurance are advised to contact their adjuster before pursuing any of these options.”

Edwards says the 2009 crop is a near polar opposite of 2008. “We had a bumper crop last year,” he says.

He agrees that grain sorghum looks to be “the best fit” for a replant option. “Hitting freeze damaged wheat with glyphosate and planting a summer crop may be the best option,” he says. He says soybeans, cotton, sunflowers and sesame also may offer good opportunities.

“Be aware of what herbicide was applied to the wheat,” he says.

Sesame acreage has increased in Oklahoma in the past few years, but Edwards cautions growers to secure a reliable market before committing to a new crop.

“Mother Nature may have provided farmers a good opportunity this year to try something new,” he says.

He says grain sorghum may be the “most forgiving” option of summer crops.

Oklahoma farmers planted about 5.9 million acres of wheat this year, but Edwards says harvested acreage estimates would be premature. “We had a lot of dual purpose wheat planted, but a lot of cattlemen sold cattle because the drought limited grazing. Now, harvest will depend on whether some farmers cut some (marginal) acres for seed to plant next fall. Finding seed may be an issue. Supplies could be tight, but not as bad as 2006.”

Morgan says a lot of the Texas wheat crop will be cut for hay.

“If farmers harvest they’ll need to leave a strip for insurance adjusters. Some will have to invest more money into the crop just to harvest.”

email: rsmith@farmpress.com