Sometimes the timing of rainfall may be more important than the amount. It hasn’t rained much across Texas for the past three years, and 2013 has not been an exception.
But grain producers in Northeast Texas and the South Plains are harvesting or preparing to harvest corn and grain sorghum that made the best of what little rain it got.
Northeast Texas, following a much better than expected wheat harvest, may be on the verge of making better-than-decent corn and grain sorghum crops. As corn harvest winds down, observers estimate dryland fields are averaging about 90 bushels per acre. Some fields will top the 100-bushel mark.
Grain sorghum appears to be even better with growers pushing three tons on many fields with reports of 7,000 pound-per-acre fields as well.
“We’re cutting 5,500 to 6,000 pounds on our heavy soils,” says Kendall Wright, who farms with his father Kenneth in Hunt County. “Lighter soils are producing from about 3,300 pounds to 4,200 pounds, he says. “I’d say we are averaging 3,700 on the lighter soils.”
He’s uncertain just how much rain they’ve had on his maize crop but says they received some good rain in June that set it up to produce good yields. Following that, they got a few “spotty” rain events that put a half-inch or less on in several showers.
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Tyler Norman was combining corn in Grayson County earlier this week for his grandfather, Jack Norman. He says the corn is typically averaging better than 100 bushels on the best soils but about 75 on lighter land.
As he pushed through one of the last fields left to harvest, he pointed to the yield monitor that showed 105 bushels per acre. Considering the year, producers are content with what they’re making.
Kenneth Wright is following behind the combine with a flail shredder that cuts the grain stubble into small pieces that will decompose through the rest of summer and into early fall.
“We will plant no-till wheat into the grain sorghum stubble,” Kenneth says.
“We’ve been planting no-till wheat since 2010,” Kendal says.
See photos of corn harvest here.
They say the practice reduces the number of trips across the field significantly, cuts fuel costs and saves on labor.
“Folks tell us it takes about five years to see a significant yield increase,” Kenneth says. “We need to keep saving the residue and putting organic matter back into the soil.”
But even as they wait for a hoped-for yield bump, they see advantages with less erosion, more efficient equipment and fuel management and labor savings.
Jim Swart, Texas AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist for the Northeast Texas area, says the Wrights and Norman are not alone in making good grain yields this summer.
“Corn and grain sorghum producers in Northeast Texas are having a good year,” he says. “Following a bumper wheat crop, corn yields are good and grain sorghum yields are excellent. Most of the corn is averaging 90 to 100 bushels per acre, and the grain sorghum crop will likely average 5,000 to 6,000 pounds when it’s all said and done.”
He agrees that rainfall has not been abundant, but some rain last winter and timely rain in June gave farmers an opportunity make good grainyields.
A similar situation exists in the South Plains where growers have prospects of making decent dryland grain sorghum and are pushing irrigated acreage to get the most yield possible.
“The rains we’ve had since mid-June have been a tremendous benefit,” said Dr. Calvin Trostle, AgriLife Extension agronomist in Lubbock who specializes in corn and sorghum, in a recent crop weather report. “Certainly, producers are pushing corn as best they can with irrigation and close attention to spider mite and corn earworm control.”
“The rains have pushed the crop to a point where we may be able to finish out the crop with just a little more rainfall,” Trostle says. “There’s certainly cause for optimism.”
Grain sorghum acreage is up this year as a result of favorable prices early and from additional plantings behind failed cotton, he says.
The number of acres planted behind failed cotton are not known, but “are substantial.” He says grain sorghum was a good option behind failed dryland cotton because it can be planted relatively late in the season.
A substantial amount of haygrazer—sorghum Sudan—also has been planted this year.
Trostle says the U.S. Drought Monitor map that still shows most of the Panhandle and South Plains region in severe to exceptional drought, doesn’t tell the whole story.
“The maps can’t show a little spot four miles wide by 10 miles long that has had 10 inches of rain since mid-June,” he says. “Some spots here and there have had 8, 9 and 10 inches, and most of that rain has come slow so there’s minimal runoff.”
Across the state, corn production is up and down, says David Gibson, executive director for Texas Corn Producers Board.
“The Panhandle and South Plains corn crop is looking to come in with about average or even a little better than average yields compared to what we've seen historically,” Gibson says.
“We've heard from farmers south of Dallas, in the Blacklands area, that most yielded just above what they were expecting for the year, and it's overall an average crop.”
It’s not quite that good further south. “The Coastal Bend and South Texas had some areas with good yields and some that didn't fare as well this year. Overall though, we're expecting about an average corn crop statewide this year or even a little above average. The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) estimated yield of 138 bushels per acre seems to be pretty accurate with what we're hearing from farmers across the state and seeing in the Panhandle as of right now,” he says.