Texas sorghum acres were expected to decline slightly, but competitive prices, dry weather and input costs could direct some producers toward the crop, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
The prospective acres report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated Texas producers would plant 1.7 million acres of sorghum, down from more than 2 million acres last year. Texas producers planted 1.8 million acres of sorghum in 2020.
Ronnie Schnell, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension agronomist, Bryan-College Station, said actual planted sorghum acres could be above the USDA’s prospective survey report for a variety of reasons, most notably drought and high fertilizer prices.
The grain market is strong with record-level high prices, Schnell said. Corn prices drive the market, but other grains like sorghum and wheat trend upward or downward relative to corn.
According to an April 13 AgriLife Extension Feed Grain Outlook report, May and July per-bushel corn future prices were $7.84 and $7.78, respectively. Corn began a precipitous climb from below $4 per bushel in August 2020 to between $6-$7 per bushel by April 2021, according to a USDA Feed Outlook.
Sorghum prices followed along and have recently fluctuated between $7.50-$8 per bushel, Schnell said.
“The prices are good, so we may see a few more sorghum acres than expected,” he said. “I can certainly see where the dry weather and high input costs might make growers consider sorghum as an option.”
Weather is dry, fertilizer is high
Schnell said he has been planting sorghum variety test plots around state and noted crop conditions and progress at this point of the season. The majority of acres from South and Central Texas up to Dallas were planted, and sorghum acres in the South Plains to Panhandle will follow corn plantings.
“We’re seeing some emergence and fair crop conditions, but emergence in some fields was spotty with poor stands,” he said.
But drought conditions and high input costs could influence producers’ decisions regarding crop options for acres not planted yet, he said. Sorghum is more drought and heat tolerant than corn and generally receives less nitrogen fertilizer, two factors that weigh heavily on planting decisions and could lead to more sorghum acres than the prospective estimate by the USDA.
Schnell said fertilizer costs were consuming double and triple typical percentages of producers’ budgets this year. It will take more bushels of grain to cover the added costs of fertilizer alone compared to an average year.
But as producers see the need to maximize yields, Mother Nature has been withholding the one thing many Texas field acres desperately need – rainfall. Schnell said timely rainfall will be needed for producers to realize good yields.
Planting was complete in the Corpus Christi area of South Texas, one of the largest sorghum-producing areas of the state, he said. Producers were planting seeds deeper than normal to access soil moisture below dry topsoil. Most grain sorghum is grown under non-irrigated conditions and irrigated fields are typically limited irrigation.
Schnell said long-term forecasts continue to call for drier-than-normal conditions, but producers are hopeful weather systems with ample rain will turn conditions around like last year.
“Fertilizer prices are really high, and that is a challenge, but the only way you make things work with the higher input costs is really good yields, so you can take advantage good grain prices,” he said. “If we don’t get rain, that is where it can be difficult.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Nearly all counties reported very short soil moisture and warm, windy and dry conditions. Isolated thunderstorms were reported, and tornado activity caused property damage. Rainfall was isolated and very light. Soil moisture continued to decline, and moisture deficits continued to expand. Cotton plantings slowed, but some replanting was done due to patchy germination under dry topsoil conditions. Some corn was replanted. Overall, crop growth was slowing due to dryness. Wheat was now mostly headed and into early flowering stage, and yields could be impacted if rainfall does not arrive soon. Warm temperatures suppressed further expansion of leaf rusts in wheat. Stock tank levels declined substantially over the past few weeks, and algae was becoming more problematic with increasing temperatures. Livestock were still on feed as warm-season grasses were slow to develop in pastures. Overall, rangeland and pasture conditions were poor.
Conditions were hot and windy with no moisture. Winter wheat was showing signs of growth, and some fields were in the boot stage or heading, but other fields were being plowed under. Row crop preparations were delayed by dry conditions. Some sorghum was planted after recent rains. Some corn had emerged. Cattle were grazing some late wheat growth. Forage inventories were declining, but supplemental feeding continued, and rangelands were showing very little growth. Ranchers were culling herds due to lack of forage and rising supplemental feed costs. Fire concerns remained due to dry conditions.
Dry, windy conditions continued, and soil moisture levels continued to decline. Corn was showing early signs of drought stress. Grain sorghum that emerged was doing fair. Some sorghum plantings were emerging inconsistently, and thin stands were a concern. Cotton was coming up, but a lot of acres were planted dry. Rice was nearly all planted and emerging. Pastures and rangelands continued to decline. Livestock were running short on available grazing. Most cattle producers were feeding hay and protein.
Pastures were greening up following recent rainfall. Winter pastures were being cut for silage. Ryegrass started to grow. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate. Pond and creek levels were looking much better, and some were full. Livestock were in fair to good condition with some supplemental feeding. Fertilizer prices remained high. Wild pig activity was reported in most counties.
Extreme drought conditions continued. A few farmers planted oats over wheat fields that did not emerge in hopes of having some type of grazing for cattle if rainfall arrives. Many farmers were preparing their fields for spring planting, but the lack of rainfall was delaying planting decisions. Cattle were on supplemental feed. Producers were selling off their cow-calf pairs due to the lack of forage.
Dry conditions persisted with very short to short soil moisture reported. Fieldwork in preparation of spring planting continued. Most producers were waiting for some rainfall or were pre-watering fields for planting later this month. Wheat was in decline. Cattle diets were being supplemented on rangelands. Crop, rangeland and pasture ratings were very poor to poor overall.
Soil moisture was short to adequate. Much-needed rain was received over the weekend. Wet conditions will keep planters out of the fields for a few days, but already planted crops and maturing crops will benefit from it. Producers still need one or two more good rains to produce a good wheat and oat crop this year. Wheat was standing about knee high and heading, but still a little behind schedule because of the drought. Corn was planted and beginning to emerge in some parts of the district. Oats fields looked good. Sorghum and soybeans were planted. Spring pastures were starting to provide some grazing for cattle. Pastures and rangeland ratings were poor to excellent. Livestock were in good condition. Spring-born calves were doing well.
The average high temperature was 93 degrees with an average low temperature of 59 degrees. No rain was reported amid extremely dry and windy conditions. No cotton was planted yet, and growers were not optimistic about the crop due to dry conditions. More producers were turning off their irrigation water and most will not irrigate this season. What little corn that was planted was showing mixed conditions at this point with a portion looking very good and other fields looking poor with nonuniform emergence. Watermelon planting continued, and soil moisture was good in those fields. Pecans were budding out. Andrews County lost approximately 6,500 acres of rangeland to wildfire. Livestock producers were providing heavy rations of supplemental hay and feed due to poor grazing conditions. Many pastures were completely bare of grass. Many ranchers were evaluating herds for culling.
Conditions were very dry across the district. Some areas did receive rain, but most parts stayed dry. Some green-up occurred, but there was little available forage. Wheat was being watered in irrigated fields, and pre-watering in cotton fields started in anticipation of planting in a month. Pecan trees were finally breaking winter dormancy. Most mesquite trees had broken winter dormancy. Livestock were in poor to fair condition. Some ranchers were selling cows due to the lack of water and little to no lease land available.
Many counties were struggling with dry conditions. Soil moisture levels were very short to adequate. Some counties received some rain, up to 2 inches in one location, but dry conditions persisted. Farmers planted rice. Pastures were getting dry. Windy conditions were reported. Grasses were starting to green up. Herbicide and fertilizer prices were impacting some producers’ decisions not to spray. Livestock were in good condition, and most pastures were fertilized and needed rain. Rangeland and pasture ratings were very poor to excellent with mostly fair conditions reported.
Pasture and rangeland conditions continued to decline for most of the area. Weather conditions continued to be dry and hot. Fire hazards were extremely high. Irrigated crops looked good, and producers continued to adjust herd numbers according to the continued drought. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Spring shearing was underway. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued. Market prices for sheep and goats were high, and cattle prices were steady.
Northern and eastern parts of the district reported very short moisture levels, while southern and western areas reported short soil moisture. Fieldwork continued amid hot, windy weather, and some row-crop acres were planted. Irrigated fields looked good, and Coastal Bermuda grass fields neared their first cutting. Some planted sorghum fields were abandoned. Cotton and sorghum fields were showing spotty emergence. Some cotton reached the two to four leaf stage. Irrigated corn fields looked moisture stressed. Some producers were spraying for weeds. Watermelons under drip irrigation looked great. Onions were still being harvested. Citrus and sugarcane were being irrigated. Some farmers were preparing to irrigate as further restrictions by water districts were likely around the corner. Pasture and rangeland conditions were mostly poor and continued to decline. Livestock and wildlife producers were providing heavy supplemental feed for their animals. Producers were hauling hay, cubes and water. Hay and feed prices continued to rise. Cattle prices were steady as producers continued to reduce herd numbers. Increased numbers of deer were being hit along roadsides as they sought forages.