Southern Rolling Plains wheat producers are wedged between that old cliché rock and a hard place as they contemplate planting decisions this fall.

“They’re wondering what to do,” says Texas AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist Rick Minzenmayer.

Minzenmayer talked about small grain farmers’ dilemma at a recent field day near San Angelo.

“If we get a half-inch rain, do they plant or not?” he asked. “We have no underground moisture.”

Texas AgriLife agronomist David Drake, at a turn-row meeting the following day in Runnels County, said moisture monitors placed in a field near Walls, Texas, show soil “is struggling for moisture as deep as 3 feet.”

“And wheat seed is expensive,” Minzenmayer says, “10 to $12 a pound for bin-run seed. Certified seed is much higher.”

He says area farmers typically plant 80,000 to 90,000 acres of wheat, a significant amount of that either for grazing or dual purpose—grazing and grain. Drought could force producers to cut back on acreage this fall.

“Getting the variety they want also may be an issue,” he says. “We didn’t make much from the 2011 crop.”

Farmers who have wheat in storage also might wonder if it’s best to hold the grain for later sale or pull some out and plant. “The whole state is in drought condition. Farmers could plant and if it doesn’t come up collect 35 percent insurance and plant cotton back next spring, fully insured.”

Drake says the moisture issue is critical. “Obviously, it’s dry,” he says. Wheat (in the region) requires about 32 inches of water a year to produce a good yield. “Anything less than that and yield begins to drop dramatically.”

Soils also are warm. “Temperature probes at 18-inch depths have been above 80 degrees all summer. Small grains do not like warm soil.”

Drake says farmers can do nothing about the drought but they can adapt to it somewhat. “How can we save water? Planting later is one good recommendation, unless you plant for grazing.”

He says later planting means seeding into cooler soil. “And we hope to get more moisture. Planting later also means we use less water over the entire year.”

Adjusting seeding rate also may improve the odds. “How low can we go? Standard seeding rate is 45 pounds per acre and that varies depending on the variety and conditions. In good conditions, we can drop to 30 pounds per acre in an October seeding. If we wait until November, we need to raise the rate because plants have less time to tiller.”

He said farmers planning to graze wheat should raise the rate.

With small-seeded varieties, like Duster, lower seeding rates will be okay. Rates should be higher for varieties like Fannin and Doane, which have larger seed.

Selecting the best varieties also helps, Drake says. Variety trials show Tam 111, Jackpot, Greer, Duster and Santa Fe as good options.

He says Tam 111 is the most widely planted variety in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas and “has good heat tolerance. I really like Duster; it yields well here and has Hessian fly resistance. I also like Santa Fe.

“I like Fannin for forage production. I also like Tam 203 for forage wheat, and it has good disease resistance.”

He says Tam 112 produces high yields but has no disease resistance. “But with generic fungicides available, it might be more acceptable. Coronado has Hessian fly resistance and seed is available.”

Drake also cautioned wheat growers to abide by Plant Variety Protection Act regulations. “They are getting stricter about enforcing PVP,” he says. “Life is better if you abide by it. Also, companies will not be able to develop new varieties if they can’t make money on them.”