Texas grain sorghum, corn and wheat farmers harvested good yields last year despite some early season setbacks and expect acreage and price increases in 2002.

“We made a much better crop in the High Plains in 2001,” says Dee Vaughn, a Dumas, Texas, grain farmer and board member for the National Corn Growers Association.

Bill Kubecka, president of the Texas Grain Sorghum Association and vice president for legislation for the National Grain Sorghum Producers and a Palacios, Texas, farmer, says grain sorghum in his area made “outstanding yields in 2001, possibly the best we've ever made.”

“We started out very dry in the High Plains,” says Tommy Womack, president of the Texas Wheat Producers Association and a Tulia farmer. “A lot of our wheat did not emerge until we got a mid-February rain. Timely rains helped make one of the best crops we've had in a long time. Oklahoma wheat yields also improved last year, but Kansas and Colorado production was down slightly.

“We had few insect problems and no hot, dry weather during flowering. Harvest weather was hot and dry. It was a pleasure to harvest the crop; I just wish we had a better price.”

Womack, Kubecka and Vaughn, participants in a recent Texas Commodity Symposium in Amarillo, express optimism for grain in 2002.

“A lot depends on weather,” says Vaughn, “but I think we'll see an increase in corn acreage next year. We're getting winter moisture, so far.”

He says lower prices for natural gas and nitrogen fertilizer also will encourage farmers who switched to alternate crops, such as sunflowers, last spring to come back to corn. He says natural gas price is about half what it was last spring.

“We're seeing some modest improvements in the corn market, as well,” he says. “Stocks are down, so the fundamentals are in place for demand to pick up.”

Kubecka says nationally grain sorghum did not fare as well as it did in Texas in 2001. “Also, grain sorghum has been in short supply in Mexico so we're seeing a good demand.”

He says grain sorghum markets in south Texas hold at or slightly above corn prices. “In some cases, we get a premium,” he says.

Sorghum offers a number of advantages, Kubecka says. “It's useful on marginal land. With good rain and on good soil, yields will be higher, but grain sorghum will hang on longer with less rain on marginal land. It is doing well for us in south Texas. My figures, as well as an economist's, show a reasonable return with grain sorghum. Inputs are lower than for other crops” He says acreage should increase in 2002.

Womack says the 2001-2002 crop got off to a scary start.

“It looked like a repeat of last year,” he says. “We like to plant from mid-September through mid-November and early on we were extremely dry again. We dusted in a lot of wheat.”

Rain, from 2 to 4 inches, in mid-November, “while weather was still warm, helped the wheat to jump out of the ground,” Womack says. “We have a good stand and it looks like we'll get some gazing out of this crop.”

He says the late start in 2001 prevented a lot of farmers from grazing wheat. “We harvested more than usual with a combine,” he says.

And with price he sees “a ray of hope with reduced restrictions on trade with Cuba.” Recent negotiations reached a compromise on shipping, allowing half of commodities to be shipped in U.S. vessels and half in Cuban ships.

“We're working on getting wheat to Cuba now,” he says. “Cuba could be a big market and could help increase exports.”

He says half the U.S. wheat crop needs to be exported. “That has not happened and we're building stocks. Also, the United States is 14th among the 50 top wheat importers. We're growing too much and bringing too much in.”

Womack says Canada, Argentina and Australia may produce less wheat from the 2001 crop. “Consequently, the price outlook is a little brighter.”

Less promising, Womack says, is the threat of karnal bunt and its impact on both domestic and export sales.

“We're very concerned. Karnal bunt is a top priority, second only to getting a good farm bill passed. We've discussed funding for variety resistance research and bio-technology to rid us of the disease. But breeding work takes ten years.”

Meanwhile, he says, the association is working with chemical companies to develop crop protection materials.

“And we're trying to lower the classification to match other common smut diseases. This is not a life-threatening organism. We also must prove to customers, primarily Egypt and Japan, that karnal bunt poses no health hazard.”

rsmith@primediabusiness.com