The Texas wheat crop holds more promise now than it did this time last year, but making a good yield may be “nip and tuck,” as farmers continue to hope for adequate rainfall through spring to finish out the crop.

That’s especially true of the High Plains, says Travis Miller, associate department head, Soil and Crop Sciences, Texas A&M University. Miller told participants in a Blackland Income Growth Conference grain seminar that much of Texas “has had a little rain.

“The Blacklands and East Texas received several inches from January through early February. “But the High Plains has had very little,” he said in a presentation during the 50thAnnual B.I.G. conference in Waco recently.

“And the High Plains is where about half of the state’s wheat is grown.”

Miller, who also serves as the Texas AgriLife drought monitor, said nine or 10 counties are “now drought free.” Recent rains may have pushed another county or two into that category as well.

“But a significant part of the state remains in drought,” he said. “In fact, the drought risk is worse now than it was this time last year.”

Miller showed side-by-side drought monitor maps that detailed drought conditions from January 2011 and January 2012. A considerably larger part of the state is in at least severe drought now than was the case a year ago.

“We’re not out of the drought yet,” he said. The La Nina event “dipped way below neutral but may not be as severe now as it was this time last year. But it is not back to neutral.”

Recent projections indicate conditions could start to improve as early as May or as late as late summer.

Miller said wheat farmers have options to manage production during a drought. Fallow is one possibility but producers would have to take land out of production for an extended period.

Reduced tillage might be a less drastic option. “Reducing tillage can save 1 to 1.5 inches of moisture,” he said.

He recommends soil testing and possibly identifying residual nutrients from last year’s failed crops. Altering planting dates may help conserve moisture. Delayed planting could save as much as 5 inches of water, he said.

Managing irrigation, based on field moisture levels, improves water use efficiency.

Miller said early-maturing varieties also “can make a big difference. A 10-day difference in maturity can be significant,” he said.