Corn and sorghum producers could be in for a rollercoaster ride of a growing season as weather conditions and domestic and export markets remain uncertain, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Dr. Mark Welch, AgriLife Extension economist, College Station, said a price rally on corn this spring has brought prices higher than in recent years as the U.S. Department of Agriculture updated its global supply and demand outlook.
He said a drop in carryover supplies nationally and internationally indicates strong corn demand for biofuels and livestock feed, especially among emerging economies and global markets where beef and pork production is meeting growing demand.
“The price was so low that they used more of it, and the price has been low for several years,” Welch said.
It’s too early to tell, but Welch said the combination of strong demand and reduced domestic corn acres could drive prices higher. U.S. corn acres in 2018 were estimated at just over 88 million, down from 90.2 million in 2017,with Texas producing 2.4 million acres, down from 2.45 million acres in 2017.
Texas accounts for 2-3 percent of U.S. corn production, he said.
Texas producers have chosen other planting options – soybeans and cotton – due to low prices, but a continued rally could mean price trends stay positive for corn producers.
“The initial outlook is for continued strong use and lower production,” he said. “That could create an environment for higher prices.”
Welch said current moisture conditions and weather forecasts appear positive for the Corn Belt – Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois and surrounding states – but the La Niña weather pattern has meant lower moisture levels for Texas producers. Acres planted in February and March have performed well but have been under stress from lack of moisture.
Some corn producing counties received decent rains, but others recently reported corn leaves were drawing up from lack of moisture, or pineappling, by 10 a.m., a sign of advanced moisture stress.
“That’s not good,” Welch said. “Rain that has arrived has been a lifesaver because it was getting serious. If there is moisture stress during tasseling or silking, which are critical stages, you could see poor ear and kernel development, which means some real production issues that will hurt yields.”
Welch said sorghum producers could face challenging weather conditions and uncertainty in a market that has held up despite a “rough” price drop in Kansas. Restrictions by China linked to ongoing trade disputes could exacerbate problems, but export demand from Mexico and other countries has kept the price afloat.
“Sorghum acres may be lower due to its price relative to other commodities which creates more uncertainty around a crop that is so dependent on exports,” he said.
Welch said weather conditions make the outlook for sorghum producers even more uncertain.
“Farmers who have survived the last few years have in many cases done so because of good yields, despite low prices,” he said. “But in a year where conditions might mean average production or below, they’ll need to have a positive price response or a production cost savings, because it really tightens the margins.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
CENTRAL: Rainfall gave crops and pastures a boost, but many counties were still very dry. The dry fall and winter months left little to no deep subsoil moisture. Pecan producers started pecan nut casebearer treatments. Baling of winter annual pastures was in full swing. Milo planting was close to being complete. Evening temperatures and soil temperatures were warming enough to aid Bermuda grass growth. Weed control was ongoing. Livestock were in good condition. Stock tank levels were holding steady. Most counties reported good soil moisture. Nearly all counties reported good crop, rangeland and pasture conditions.
ROLLING PLAINS: Much-needed moisture fell across parts of the district with one county reporting 3 inches on average, which should help the soil profile. Grasses were starting to green up. Wheat and oats were baled. Wheat not yet baled was close to harvest. Haygrazer was planted and emerging. Forages were starting to grow. Producers were supplementing with hay or cake in the drier counties. Spring calving continued. Cotton planting began.
COASTAL BEND: Hot, humid and dry conditions prevailed. Soil moisture continued to decrease due to lack of rainfall. Wheat fields with marginal soil moisture at planting were showing severe moisture stress. As a result, some growers started to harvest crops as forage rather than take them to grain. Producers with irrigation were watering corn and cotton. Rice planting continued. Hay supplies were limited and demand was growing as producers sought bales. Rangeland and pasture conditions continued to decline. Producers were culling and taking some cattle to market ahead of schedule. If substantial rains do not arrive soon, heavier cuts to cow herds were expected.
EAST: Growing conditions worsened across the district due to the lack of rainfall and unseasonably hot temperatures. Angelina, Marion, Sabine, San Augustine and Trinity counties reported slight rainfall. Cherokee County reported pond and creek water levels were decreasing. Trinity County warm-season forages almost completely stopped growing, which caused some producers to purchase and feed hay. Cherokee, Gregg, Houston and Marion counties reported hay production was in full swing. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good apart from Rusk County, which reported excellent conditions. Jasper County reported oats and winter wheat were in fair condition. Marion County reported a good start for gardens. Topsoil and subsoil conditions were short in Angelina, Cherokee and Houston and were surplus in Marion County. Topsoil and subsoil conditions in all other counties were adequate despite the lack of rain. Reports from all counties indicate livestock were in good condition. Gregg County indicated cattle prices were on the high side while Houston County cattle markets dropped several dollars per hundredweight. Feral hogs continued to be a problem in Henderson, Shelby, Trinity and Wood counties. Henderson County fly infestations continued to build in number. Herbicide treatments remained steady in Gregg and Wood counties, while calls for weed identification and recommendations were on the rise in Smith County.
SOUTH PLAINS: Subsoil and topsoil conditions remained very dry. Crosby, Floyd, Lubbock and Scurry counties received rainfall ranging from 0.05-3 inches, but more rain was needed for all aspects of agriculture. Some damaging hail was also received. Irrigated cotton and corn emerged and was off to a fast start due to high temperatures. Wireworms were an early concern. Crops under irrigation were doing well. Pastures and rangeland were in poor to fair condition. Cattle were in fair to good condition.
PANHANDLE: Temperatures were above average for most areas. Soil moisture continued to be very short. Some moisture was received. Amounts ranged from a trace to over 4 inches in some isolated areas, including Hall County. More rain was needed throughout the district. The Armstrong County Mallard fire was 100 percent contained but burned 75,000 acres. Producers reported several dead cattle, but most losses were to fences and rangeland forages. Open weather allowed good progress in corn planting and making hay in both alfalfa and wheat. Corn planting was estimated to be slightly over half complete but should be 75 percent complete over the next seven days. Corn and cotton planting neared completion in Ochiltree County. Quite a bit of wheat was cut for hay as drought and poor quality made this the best option for many. Rangeland and pastures were not greening up and were behind schedule. Some ranchers were still supplementing cattle on range. Cattle were moved to summer pastures, but without rain, grazing will be for a limited time period. Spring breeding season started for cow/calf producers. Wheat pasture grazing was all but over as temperatures reached the 80s and 90s, and wheat was mature. Producers diverted irrigation to corn and cotton plantings. Native grasses were dry and barely starting to green up with the recent showers. Dryland sorghum planting was expected to begin soon. Many producers who planned on planting dryland cotton were switching to grain sorghum because there wasn’t enough moisture to plant and this decision bought them additional time to see if it rains.
NORTH: Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels ranged from adequate to short across the counties. Temperatures were above average with high humidity. Some counties received 0.5-2 inches of rain. Pastures looked good but were beginning to dry out quickly. Hay cutting was ongoing in ryegrass and mixed grass fields. Wheat and oat fields were in the hard dough stage and looked good, and good yields were expected. Corn was doing great. Beans were up and looked nice, and cotton was starting to emerge. Livestock were in great condition, but horn flies were starting to be bothersome and there was a problem with ear ticks. Feral hog activity slowed down.
FAR WEST: Temperatures ranged from highs in the 100s to lows in the 60s. Rainfall totaled between 0.3 and 0.7 of an inch with 2-inch hail stones reported in the southeastern part of the district. Fire danger was still a concern. Small amounts of precipitation helped get irrigated acres established, but it wasn’t enough to get dryland acres up and going. Deer were browsing corn, sorghum and watermelons heavily. Pecan orchards were looking good with catkins falling off trees. Nut casebearer spraying was in full swing, and bee and wasp activity increased in urban yards. Alfalfa production was very good early on. Pima cotton and the majority of upland cotton was planted.
WEST CENTRAL: Very hot, windy days were the norm. Most of the district reported 1-5 inches of rain while others received scattered rainfall. Hot temperatures and high winds quickly dried out water that didn’t soak in. Grasses responded favorably to the rains, but soil moisture levels were already so low the soil profile was drying out relatively fast. Most haygrazer was planted with the majority emerged and off to a decent start, but more rain was needed soon to sustain the crop. Oat fields were cut for grain and wheat fields were maturing. Some fields were planted for summer hay. Wheat harvest began, but showers and humid conditions prevented many acres from being harvested. A small amount of cotton was planted, and planting will be in full swing as soon as producers can get in fields. Stock tank levels continued to decline and were a concern, but cattle continued to look good.
SOUTHEAST: Chambers County desperately needed rain. Livestock in the region were generally in fair to good condition but pastures could use some rain. Hay producers were cutting and baling hay. Crops could also use rain, and conditions were critical for corn. Brazos County received up to 2 inches of rain. Rangeland and pasture ratings were excellent to very poor with fair ratings being most common. Soil moisture levels ranged from adequate to very short with short being most common.
SOUTHWEST: Some counties got some much-needed rain, ranging from 0.2-0.5 of an inch. These counties reported improved rangeland and pasture conditions. Creeks and tanks benefited from the rain as well. Some counties, however, received no rain and were showing signs of drought. With temperatures nearing 100 degrees, rangeland and pasture conditions were declining in those counties. Wheat harvest was in full swing with good yields reported. Corn was starting to tassel. Livestock were in fair condition.
SOUTH: Weather conditions were dry with adequate to very short moisture levels. Temperatures were hot, mostly in the 90s, with some reports of 100-plus degrees. There were some reports of rain in the northern, eastern and western parts of the district with amounts from 1-3 inches. Wheat harvest was complete. Harvests of red potatoes, chipper potatoes and food corn continued. Peanut planting started. Pasture and rangeland conditions continued to decline with high temperatures but should rebound where rainfall was received. Seven months of below-average rainfall was taking a toll on stock tank water levels with many declining rapidly with hotter temperatures. Supplemental feeding increased for livestock and wildlife. Body condition scores on some cattle remained fair. All winter grass crops were harvested or grazed by livestock. Some wheat was being harvested. Irrigated vegetables and grass for hay looked to good. Irrigation was also applied to pecan trees, corn, cotton, sorghum and cabbage. Onion harvest continued. Livestock on native rangeland and pastures continued to do well as forage availability was mostly fair to good. There were notable increases in cull cows sold at local auctions. Many producers were thinning down herds before summer sets in. Sugarcane harvest concluded for the season.