“The worst I’ve ever seen,” was a phrase commonly heard during regional freeze injury assessment meetings held throughout the Rolling Plains and Panhandle this spring.
Agronomists, extension agents and wheat researchers agreed that damage sustained from five significant freeze events that rolled through the Texas High Plains during March and April was widespread but also highly variable. Farmers from across the region showed up carrying samples of limp, discolored wheat, but freezing temperatures were not the only battle the 2013 wheat crop faced.
“The lack of moisture throughout the winter was worse on my wheat,” said David Cleavinger, a farmer in Wildorado.
“The freezing temperatures were just the nail in the coffin.”
The first bout of freezing temperatures occurred during the second week in April and wreaked the most havoc on the Rolling Plains crop.
“In February my wheat was the best I had ever seen,” said Wichita Falls farmer Fred Dwyer. “By the end of April, that same wheat was toast due to freeze injury and rainfall that never came.”
According to Texas A&M AgriLife wheat breeder Dr. Jackie Rudd, several variety trial locations in the High Plains were severely damaged.
“Each of the first three freezes took their toll, but the freeze on April 24 was the most damaging,” said Rudd. “When evaluating one particular variety trial location, most of the heads were dead in the places we checked. Wheat at the Bushland station was better, but I still estimate well over a 50 percent loss there.”
Freezing temperatures continued sporadically through early May in the Texas Panhandle overshadowing the news of the continuing lack of moisture.
The loss of grain yield potential from freeze injury presented additional challenges for farmers as they made production decisions on the wheat left in the field.
According to Texas Wheat Vice President for Legislative Affairs Kody Bessent, there are currently no rules in the Loss Adjustment Manual, the document which governs crop insurance practices, to assess yield loss in wheat prior to heading of the plant.
“Most of the wheat in the Panhandle was in the joint or boot stage when the freezes occurred,” said Bessent. “In some fields the damage, especially damage to the stem of the plant, was clearly visible; however, without the proper rules in place crop adjusters were not able to release acres because of the early state of maturity.”
The need for speedy crop insurance adjustment was quickly acknowledged as a top need for producers and the Texas Wheat Producers Association began working with other groups to form solutions.
“We’ve been working closely with the Risk Management Agency, members of the U.S. House and Senate and local groundwater districts to highlight the need for action in damaged wheat crops,” said Bessent.
Many producers also expressed concern over a possible lack of seed for fall planting.
“When you look at deteriorating crop conditions across several key wheat regions you start worrying about the availability and quality of seed wheat,” said Jody Bellah, a farmer in Throckmorton.
The Texas Wheat Producers Board has been involved in industry discussions aimed at expanding the amount of certified seed available for 2013 planting.
In early May, the National Agricultural Statistics Service released their first estimate for Texas Winter Wheat production. The statewide estimate came in at 54 million bushels, down 44 percent from 2012. Production in the Texas High Plains was estimated at 6.70 million bushels, down 77 percent from last year.