Cold temperatures more plus than minus For Texas wheat FOR WHEAT farmers who rolled the dice late last summer and dusted in a crop, the gamble has paid off. They're among the few in Texas who have winter grazing for stocker calves.

But for most of the state's wheat growers "it was too dry until it was too wet," says Texas Extension wheat specialist Travis Miller, College Station.

"Most farmers were not able to plant early, prepare a good seedbed, apply fertilizer and take care of volunteer wheat," Miller says. "Then cold weather slowed the rate of growth. Consequently, wheat grazing is scarce in the state."

He says the late start, lack of fertilizer and poor volunteer wheat control make the crop look stunted, off color and growing poorly. But he has seen no long-term cold damage so far.

"I don't think we've lost a stand because of cold weather," he says. "We may have had a little injury in the Northern High Plains, but I've heard no reports of significant losses."

In fact, cold temperatures may have a positive effect on wheat for grain.

"Cold has held down greenbug numbers," he says. "Last year was the worst year I've ever seen for greenbug infestations. It's not much of a problem this year.

"Greenbugs do not like cold weather and will try to burrow underneath loose soil to escape the cold. When the soil is wet and cold, they can't get away. Consequently, we expect to see minimal numbers this year."

Oklahoma Extension entomologist Miles Karner, Altus, says greenbug numbers are extremely low. "We see no seed crop of grenbugs for this crop," he says. "It will be hard for them to build to damaging populations. It would take two or three weeks of mild temperatures to get numbers up. If we don't have significant pupulations by early March, there likely will not be a problem."

Karner says he doesn't expect to see many geenbugs in March.

Cold weather may not be as effective in keeping the Hessian fly in check, however. "We have a lot of Hessian flies in pockets across the state," Miller says.

He says the combination of cold temperatures and a late-planted crop will decrease the number of Hessian fly generations. "It's a cyclical pest and is beginning to show up, especially around the Crawford area. The cold doesn't hurt Hessian flies but it does slow reproduction."

He says the biggest advantage the 2001 wheat crop has is moisture. "Available moisture is the number one variable in wheat yields," he says. "Even with a slow start, this crop can still compensate if farmers have a good stand and good moisture under it. We're a lot better off with moisture than we were this time last year."

He says farmers may need to pay more attention to topdressing to keep this crop growing but potential for good grain yields still exist.

"A good spring will make up for a lot of early trouble."

Miller says wheat acreage will be down from last year. "I still don't have a handle on acreage, but it will be lower."

In fact, growers are looking for alternatives. "I get calls almost daily on alternative grains," Miller says. "Some may still plant oats or barley and expect to make a crop."

He says the second week in February would be a reasonable deadline to plant oats or barley in the Panhandle. It's likely too late for most of the state.

Karner says wheat in his area "looks bad. "But it has moisture under it so it may come back in the spring."

Miller says pastures have withstood cold snaps without winterkill. "The snow and ice actually provided good insulation," he says. "Farmers have had added expense, however. Since they have limited grazing, they're feeding calves. Sloppy conditions also increase the need for labor and feed expenditures."