Northeast Texas wheat farmers are finishing up what many say will be the best crop they’ve ever made.

Yields from the mid-70 bushel range up into triple digits are even more astounding considering that much of the crop suffered hard freeze damage more than once during the growing season.

A cold snap that sent temperatures into the teens in early March froze the wheat down to the crown, says Texas AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist Jim Swart.

“In early March we were basically starting from scratch,” Swart said Monday as he toured harvest operations in several Northeast Texas counties. “But it tillered back and produced adequate heads to make the yields we’re seeing now.”

He said the freeze may have killed some of the plant pathogens that typically infest wheat as it heads to maturity in spring. “We had light plant disease pressure this year,” he said. Most producers in the area routinely apply a fungicide (tebuconazole), “and we got a little yield bump from fungicide this year,” he added, “but disease pressure was nowhere near as severe as we often see.”

Swart says this crop may be “one for the record books.”

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Farmers agree. Ben Scholz was cutting one of his last fields near Farmersville and said overall yields were among the best he’s ever made. “Yield monitors have shown above 100 bushels per acre in some fields,” he said. “We’re making a lot of 70 to 80-bushel wheat.”

Scholz said his overall yield will not quite reach the 80-bushel mark but will push into the high 70s. “I’ll work on getting a little better stand next year,” he said.

Test weight has also stayed up. “We’re holding around 60,” he said. “Part of that is due to variety, Coker 9553.”

He said dockage has remained low with few immature seed. He thinks fungicide and variety each played a role.

 

Freeze injury

The freeze, too, may have been an advantage. “It may have delayed the crop a bit,” he said. “Typically, that delay would have been bad, but this spring, the delay was an advantage. We came out okay; the crop tillered back and we had a good spring for a delayed crop.”

Scholz said reports from farmers south of Dallas, indicate lower yields, 40 bushels or so. “I think they had more freeze damage,” he said. “Damage seemed to be worse west of Interstate 35.”

Farmers in Northeast Texas had some harvest issues, combining around some spring rains, but most said the late rain was not a detriment. “It didn’t hurt us,” Scholz said.

Near Leonard, Texas, Ronnie Lumpkins said yields from the last fields harvested were “dropping off a little. We may be down by 12 bushels per acre, close to 87 bushels per acre.”

He admitted that he never thought he’d be complaining about yields falling to almost 90 bushels but he added that after cutting fields with better than 100 bushels per acre, he could tell a difference.

“Most of our wheat is good,” he said. “Overall, it’s the best average yield we’ve ever made.”

He expected to combine his last 300 acres within two days.

“Most growers in the area say this is their best average yield,” Swart said.

“I thought it was going to be a good crop early on,” Lumpkins added. “But then I was thinking maybe 65 bushels per acre. That freeze may have helped.”

Swart checked by phone with several other growers and reported average yields from the mid-80 bushel range to the low 90s.

“Once again, we have an excellent crop,” he said. “We had two years in a row of good crops, but this may be the best ever. Yield average in the mid-70-bushel range into the 90s is something we don’t see around here too often.”

Lumpkins said he may not see another year like this one, but he allowed as how he said the same thing last year.

 

Rest of state is down

The rest of the state took it on the chin.

Clark Neely, Extension small grains and oilseed extension specialist, reported today that
most of Texas has experienced “another rough year as a whole for wheat production. We started off with decent moisture in the fall for most of the state (exceptions being the Panhandle and portions of the South Plains) and then it went downhill from there. A considerable portion of the dryland acres in the Rolling Plains, Panhandle, and South Plains were abandoned or grazed out due to drought.”

Then the freezes hit. “We had two late spring freeze events; the first was a relatively minor one the first week of March where we saw severe leaf burn in portions of Northeast Texas and Central Blacklands; however, as a general rule of thumb, cold winter temperatures had delayed wheat jointing enough that most of the Blacklands escaped any real yield penalties and the crop bounced back just fine.”

Neely said freezing temperatures from this cold front reached all the way to the Gulf Coast. “Some producers observed lodged wheat later in the season, which I attribute to damage from that freeze.

“We experienced a much more damaging freeze in mid-April, when a substantial amount of wheat acres were lost in West Central Texas, especially around the San Angelo, Brady, and Abilene areas. Damage was also reported in portions of the South Plains and central Blacklands. I remember seeing a number of fields being baled for silage along I-35 in early May.”

And the drought lingered well into spring. “The state remained quite dry until heavy rains hit around Memorial Day weekend. South of Dallas, most of the wheat crop had dried down and was being harvested by then. In fields that had not been harvested, sprouting became an issue for some.”

 

May rainfall

He said the May rainfall helped Northeast Texas producers finish off their crop. “Wheat was still filling heads or flowering” His yield estimate tracks with what growers reported Monday. “The average yield for Northeast Texas will likely be near 80 bushels, but some fields have gone close to 100 bushels per acre,” he said.

That’s a much better average than the rest of the state. Neely said 40 to 50 bushels for portions of central and southern Blacklands “will be the norm where freeze injury did not occur. If anything was harvested in the Rolling Plains, West Central, or South Plains, most producers were lucky to reach 20 bushels per acre, with 10 to 15 bushels more common. In the Panhandle, the very few dryland acres remaining are being harvested now and are around 5 to 10 bushels per acre. Irrigated acres are averaging 40 to 50. Most of those fields have had the water turned on since February.”

He said some farmers may still have wheat to harvest in the northern South Plains and the Panhandle. “I expect most of the wheat harvest for the state to conclude within the week,” he said.