Texas grain producers faced a difficult 2018 as natural and market forces aligned against them, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

Drought conditions and high temperatures hurt production as low prices, all-time record yields in the midwestern U.S. and trade uncertainties created a tough market for corn and sorghum growers across the state, they said.

Dr. Ronnie Schnell, AgriLife Extension agronomist, College Station, said corn and sorghum acres were down slightly, to 2.3 million acres and 1.6 million acres, respectively, mostly due to low grain prices.

Sorghum and corn harvests were complete in most regions of Texas, and poor growing and market conditions made 2018 a tough growing season for producers. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Dr. Ronnie Schnell)

Yields were down for dryland acres of corn and sorghum while yields were better for irrigated fields, Schnell said.

“Yields for dryland acres in most areas of the Coastal Bend, upper Gulf Coast, Central Texas to Dallas were worse than a typical year,” he said. “There were isolated fields that did well, but drought and high temperatures hit as plants were going into pollination and grain fill.”

The Texas High Plains accounts for about 40 percent of the state’s corn acres, and 60 percent of the overall statewide crop.

Sorghum faired a little better because it is more heat and drought tolerant, Schnell said. Farmers have also managed sugarcane aphids well with the use of aphid-tolerant varieties and due to vigilant monitoring of their fields.

Schnell said most grain fields outside of the High Plains were harvested before rain prevented farmers access to fields. While rain is welcomed in the Panhandle region, it will delay harvest of grain crops in that region for a bit.

Dr. Mark Welch, AgriLife Extension economist, College Station, said grain producers experienced a tough year both on the production side and at the market in 2018.

Lower yields in dryland fields and a higher cost of irrigation compounded the financial impact to producers, and market conditions will likely worsen this season’s results, he said.

“It was a tough, tough season for grain production,” he said.

Sorghum prices were already low as trade disputes with China created more uncertainty, Welch said.

“Up to 80 percent of all sorghum exports go to China, so that number went to zero for now,” he said. “As exports dropped off, other sectors came up, such as sorghum for food production, seed and industrial use, but again due to lower prices.”

Corn was not affected by China, but other factors contributed to poor market conditions for producers, he said. Texas cash sorghum and corn prices held up relative to the futures market in Chicago this season, likely because of tight local supplies.

“Texas corn producers took a real hit as they dealt with seasonal price dips and uncertainty in (the North American Free Trade Agreement), which was compounded by all-time record grain production in the Midwest,” Welch said. “It’s unclear what that production will mean, but it won’t help prices.”

Texas grain exports to Mexico and Canada appear to be more secure at this point in the NAFTA negotiations, but Welch said the most positive news for Texas grain producers is the possibility for a good soil moisture profile next spring.

“There hasn’t been much good news for grain producers this season,” he said. “But the rain we’ve been receiving is encouraging.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

CENTRAL: Rains of 1-5 inches were reported. Temperatures cooled. Fields were too wet to harvest cotton. Volunteer oats were emerging, and producers were preparing fields for wheat and oat planting where possible. Producers were still fighting armyworms. Stock tanks were full or overflowing. Nearly all counties reported good soil moisture. Overall rangeland and pasture conditions were good in nearly all counties, and most counties reported fair crop conditions. All counties reported good overall livestock conditions.

ROLLING PLAINS: Weather was cooler and rainy. Counties received half an inch to 10 inches of rainfall. The moisture was very beneficial to pastures, rangelands and winter wheat fields that were planted. Heavy rains also filled stock tanks and ponds throughout the area. Wheat fields vary from poor to excellent condition. Pastures were providing plenty of grazing for livestock. Livestock was in good condition, and supplemental feeding was taking place on a small scale.

COASTAL BEND: Wet weather conditions continued to delay field operations in most counties. A small amount of cotton remained unharvested. Some cotton was baled as fields started to dry in certain areas. Fallow fields were getting weedy, and volunteer cotton needed to be controlled. Aerial applications were the only means to knock back regrowth and handle stalk destruction where needed. Insecticide applications on pastures continued for armyworms. Producers were hoping to get another hay cutting before the first frost. Livestock auctions reported large runs. Livestock was doing well. Some pecans were harvested as weather allowed with yields looking about average. There was some pecan scab reported due to recent moisture.

EAST: Weather changed from a summer drought to excess rain. Counties reported 3-8 inches of rainfall. Subsoil conditions were short in Marion and Tyler counties, while Shelby and Trinity counties were at a surplus. All other counties reported adequate subsoil conditions. Topsoil conditions in Angelina and Trinity counties were at a surplus while Cherokee, Marion and Tyler counties were short. All other counties reported adequate topsoil conditions. Land preparation was underway for winter pastures in Anderson County. Pastures greened up with the rain, and ponds were filling up. Cherokee, Anderson, Houston, Marion, Panola, Smith, Trinity, Jasper and Sabine county producers were unable to cure out hay. Cherokee County hay producers resorted to harvesting silage with remaining hay fields. Sabine County fluffers and tedders were prepared in case of a short harvest window. Pasture and rangeland conditions were excellent in Sabine, poor in Harrison and Marion counties, and very poor in Trinity County. All other counties reported good to fair conditions. Harrison, Shelby and Trinity counties reported cooler night temperatures that resulted in slowed grass growth. Producers were still feeding hay despite hay being extremely difficult to locate and costs for round bales at $65-$110 per bale. Anderson County cotton was mature with about a half a bale per acre, but rainfall was delaying harvest. Some planted fall gardens. Producers continued to cull cows and sell off calves. Gregg and Shelby counties reported solid and steady cattle markets while the cattle market in Henderson County took a nosedive with prices down significantly and cattle quantities up. Livestock body conditions improved to good. Hatchling, small and large armyworms were reported in Anderson, Cherokee, Henderson, Smith and Wood counties. Heavy wild pig activity was reported in Anderson, Gregg, Henderson and Trinity counties. High fly numbers were also reported in Henderson County.

SOUTH PLAINS: Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels improved due to recent rains, but harvest was expected to slow down due to wet conditions. Some defoliated cotton had new growth and will require a respray once conditions allow. Rains caused stringing of bolls in many fields. Forecasts called for a high chance of rain, possible freezing temperatures and maybe some snow. Winter wheat continued to mature. Pastures and rangelands remained in fair to good condition. Cattle were in good condition.

Writer: Adam Russell