A cold, blustery mid-January day seemed an ideal time to prowl around Northeast Texas wheat country, inspecting crop progress and catching up with a few folks at a truck stop just off a semi-busy highway and then catching lunch at a favorite Tex-Mex café in the small farming community of Leonard.

The wheat looks okay, a bit short and growing slowly, stymied a bit by cold weather.

And a stark difference shows between wheat planted in late October and fields planted in mid-November. The earlier-planted wheat is about twice as big, tillering well and showing a more intense green color.

The difference likely will mean little, if anything, by harvest-time, says Jim Swart, Texas AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist out of Commerce.

Farmers agree.

“It’s been cold,” says Collin County wheat and corn farmer Butch Aycock. “Growth is slow but it just needs to tiller now and it’s doing that. Most of the crop looks good; we’ve seen no disease so far.”
Aycock says only about 200 of the 3,000 acres of wheat he’s planted looks bad. “Moisture is okay. In fact, we probably need a little dry stretch on our wetter soils.”

Fall rain slowed him down a little and prevented him from planting all the wheat he wanted. “We had a few wet spells at planting time. I wanted to plant a little more but I don’t like to ‘mud in’ wheat. We can get into all kinds of disease problems.”

Jay Norman, a Fannin County corn and wheat farmer, says his wheat crop also looks good and is tillering well. He is a bit concerned that consistent drought conditions over the last few years forced him and other farmers out of an ideal corn-wheat rotation. “I’m a bit concerned with some of my wheat-behind-wheat,” Norman says.

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He and Aycock have concentrated corn on their better ground the last few years, leaving thinner soils for wheat. “I’ve planted wheat on wheat on the marginal corn land,” Norman says. With the series of dry summers, he had low expectations for corn making on the more rocky soils.

Aycock agrees. “I have about one-third of my wheat acreage following wheat. Some issues with aflatoxin in corn make wheat a better choice in some fields.” He says acreage close to town, where flying on Aflaguard (an atoxigenic form of the fungus responsible for aflatoxin contamination) is not feasible, may be better suited to wheat. “I stay with wheat instead of corn on those fields,” he says. “Also, with the drought as bad as it has been for the past few years, I haven’t rotated as I should have. On those thin soils, wheat is a better choice than corn. For the long-term, that’s not a good option, though. I’ve had corn on corn for several years, too. I hope to get back to a better rotation, but I can’t plant corn on rocky ground.”

Rotation options are limited. “We don’t have many choices for these soils,” Aycock says. Folks have tried several alternatives, including sunflower. A growing number are turning to grain sorghum. But a wheat-corn combination remains a viable option, in large part because of increased yield potential with wheat. Farmers in this corner of Texas have made good crops the past two years, despite drought conditions that plagued most of the state. Some timely rains helped the last two crops do well with yields pushing above 80 bushels per acre for many growers.