By Adam Russell, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension
LUBBOCK — Alternative crops will not supplant top commodities such as corn and cotton but producers choose them as drought-tolerant rotation options that can pay off when the price is right.
Dr. Calvin Trostle, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomist in Lubbock, said alternative crops such as sunflowers, sesame and guar also give producers, especially in the Rolling & High Plains regions, viable options when it comes to replanting on a failed field or for rotations for soil health, or enduring heat and drought conditions and provide access to other markets when prices and industry demands.
In Central Texas, some sunflower fields are being harvested now, Trostle said. Good yields are being reported. One producer in Ellis County said sunflowers performed better than any other crop he planted this year, Trostle added.
Prices on sunflowers and other oilseeds have been better in the recent past, Trostle said. But sunflowers have a wide planting window, are drought tolerant and make good rotation crops for commodity crops like cotton.
“Producers seem to like them but it comes down to how many contracts are there to be filled,” he said. “The price goes up and down based on the number of acres the industry needs.”
Trostle said guar, or clusterbean, a drought-tolerant legume, has become an option in West Texas cotton crop rotations. Guar is used to produce food emulsifiers and lubricants for oil and gas drilling and fracking.
Trostle said producers in West Texas and a few other areas are facing moderate drought and high temperatures and lack of precipitation are stressing dryland plants. Those conditions make sesame, sunflowers and other crops that can take heat and lack of moisture, more appealing to producers.
The number of alternative crop acres planted goes up and down like most other crops from year to year, Trostle said. Under the right conditions it can be a good financial decision.
Dr. Clark Neely, AgriLife Extension AgriLife Extension small grains and oilseed specialist in College Station, said canola performed well for producers despite heavy spring rains. Canola is a cool-season oilseed crop harvested before summer, similar to wheat.
Neely said more producers are becoming aware of the crop as an option to wheat, which has experienced dipping prices, Neely said. Canola follows the soybean market and prices were strong, around $6.50 per bushel currently, but peaked at over $8 per bushel at harvest time, compared to wheat which stayed at or below $4 per bushel.
Canola prices generally peak at harvest time for the Southern Great Plains as the majority of North American canola is spring canola which is harvested in late summer in North Dakota and Canada, Neely said. This gives winter canola grown in Texas a price advantage.
Neely and Trostle said interest in alternative fluctuates with prices on typical commodities such as cotton, corn and wheat.
“Anytime you see dips in the commodity prices dip you’ll typically see more alternative crop acres planted,” Neely said.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
CENTRAL: Extreme high temperatures, including 100-degrees, were reported in some areas. Scattered showers helped lower temperatures into the 90s. Pastures were dry, and burn bans were implemented around the district. Livestock were in fair to good condition. All feed corn was harvested. A good pecan crop was expected. Sunflower harvest was in progress. Counties reported 75 percent of soil moisture and overall range and pasture conditions as fair. Counties reported 80 percent of crop conditions were fair, and 95 percent of overall livestock and cattle were in good condition.
ROLLING PLAINS: Hot, dry and windy days zapped some crops. Most cotton tapped into good moisture, but a good rain would be beneficial. Some scattered storms brought beneficial rains to small areas. Sorghum was starting to mature with harvest right around the corner. Pasture started to turn yellow and pose a significant fire danger. Livestock were in good condition.
COASTAL BEND: Temperatures were very hot and humid, and some much needed rainfall was reported. Other areas reported scattered showers. Grain sorghum and corn harvests were near completion. Cotton harvest began, and numerous acres were defoliated. There were reports of cotton bolls opening and some earlier-planted cotton fields may have 50 percent open bolls soon. Rice harvest was underway. Hay baling was in full swing, and pastures contained good forage supplies despite drying up quickly. Cattle remained in good condition.
EAST: Scattered rains fell across the district. Reports of one half of an inch to over 4 inches of rain fell. The rain greatly improved forage condition. All counties needed more rain as pastures were drying out. Pasture and range conditions were mostly fair, but grass was short in pastures and hay fields. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were mostly adequate with a couple of counties reporting short. Producers were optimistic that more rain would arrive in time for additional hay cuttings. Most gardens have stopped producing, and farmers were getting ready to put in fall gardens. Disease and insect issues were reported in lawns and gardens. Numerous reports of stressed or dead trees were reported. Many of those reported were related to water issues, either too much or not enough water at the proper time. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Smith County reported cattle prices were down, and some producers were deciding marketing strategies for their calf crops. Cattle prices in Gregg County held steady. Producers were on the lookout for armyworms.
SOUTH PLAINS: Weather Conditions remained hot and dry, with only a few light and widely scattered rain showers received. Irrigation continued and some corn was abandoned due to lack of rainfall and irrigation. Temperatures were at or over 100 degrees for 10 days in some areas and almost the whole month of July in others. Irrigated cotton looks good, but many dryland fields have cut out prematurely. Conditions for wildfire were increasing with the amount of dry tinder left over from early-season rainfall. Range conditions were getting worse.
PANHANDLE: Hot and dry condition continued although, temperatures were down to near normal for most of the district. Some moisture was received. Amounts ranged from a trace to 2 inches in some isolated areas. A good general rain was still needed. Soil moisture continued to be rated mostly short, and irrigation was active. Hot, dry conditions have increased heat units for the cotton and sped maturity along. Cattle were in good condition, but ranges needed moisture. The corn crop suffered, and some producers needed to make decide whether they would abandon some fields. Some chemical application for mites in corn acreage was ongoing. Grain sorghum started to head, and early hybrid species were blooming. Sugarcane aphid were spotted, and producers were monitoring fields for pests. Moth counts in corn fields were up dramatically. Cattle were in good condition. Ranges and pastures varied, rating from very poor to excellent with most reporting good to fair.
NORTH: Topsoil moisture was short and decreasing. Rainfall amounts range from one-tenth of an inch to about 1 inch. Rains will help pastures and hay meadows where received, but pastures are drying up fast. Grain crops, including corn and grain sorghum, were maturing and any rainfall will not help them, but soybeans could benefit from rain. Corn and sorghum harvests should start soon. Hay producers continued to bale second cuttings of Bermuda and the first and only cuttings of native grasses. Cotton was looking nice. Pressure from sugarcane aphids in grain sorghum fields was reported but numbers haven’t reached a critical threshold yet. Report of armyworms present in one area in the district. Heat and humidity were stressing livestock.
FAR WEST: Temperatures continued to be in the 100s, but some counties experienced some relief with temperatures lowering to the mid-90s. Sporadic rainfall was reported throughout the district. Totals ranged from zero to 2 inches. Wildfires were still a danger due to heat and wind. Burn bans remained in effect for most counties. Rangeland and pasture conditions remained fair due to rainfall, but a large amount of runoff was experienced. Early-planted cotton that did not receive any rain was starting to shed bolls and squares. Later-planted cotton was able to hold on a little longer. Sorghum and corn were very close to harvest. Sugarcane aphids were found in Glasscock County for the first time this year. Haygrazer was cut and baled and yielding quite well. Watermelons were still being harvested. Cattle body condition scores were maintaining.
WEST CENTRAL: Conditions were hot, dry, windy with temperatures remaining in the triple digits and no relief in sight. A few areas reported widely scattered showers. Wildfire dangers continued to increase as tall, dry fuel was in all areas. Burn bans were in effect. Field activities were slow due to hot conditions. Many crops showed severe drought stress. Range and pastures were showing heat and moisture stress and were declining rapidly. Cotton crops were in fair to good condition with slow growth due to dry conditions. Corn harvest was underway. Grain sorghum headed and was maturing. Harvest was getting started with the overall crop in good to excellent condition. Some cutting and baling of continued. Most haygrazer planted for hay production was cut and baled. The first cutting provided a good harvest. Moisture was needed for a second cutting. Livestock remained in fair to good condition.
SOUTHEAST: Livestock were in good condition. Sorghum harvest was wrapping up and corn harvest was nearing completion. With a week or so of dry weather and a clear forecast, some cotton producers will likely begin defoliating soon. In Waller County, fields have been harvested and were ready for planting. Montgomery County received two inches of rain and pastures responded quickly. Rains also helped fields in Jefferson County. Soil-moisture levels throughout the region ranged widely from adequate to very short, with most ratings in the short range. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, from excellent to good, with fair ratings most common.
SOUTHWEST: Spotty showers were reported across the district. Grain harvest continued. Producers prepared to harvest corn and milo and plant winter small crops. Rains should help pastures and fall hay cuttings.
SOUTH: Hot weather and lack of sufficient rainfall continued throughout the district. Temperatures were in the upper 90s to low 100s, coupled with 20-mile per hour winds, which affected soil moisture levels. Some well-needed rain was received in some areas, including up to 3 inches in McMullen County and 4 inches in Jim Wells County, but other areas received scattered showers or nothing. Soil moisture levels ranged from 100 percent adequate to 100 percent short. Corn and sorghum harvests continued and neared completion in some areas. Rainfall halted work in some fields. Cotton crops were in good condition and continued to mature, and harvest was picking up momentum in some areas. Peanut crops were in the pegging stage and were under irrigation. Range and pasture conditions were fair to poor. Range and pastures were already showing bare ground in some areas. The rainfall helped improve soil moisture conditions and improve grazing pastures. Some supplemental feeding occurred in some herds, and body condition scores on cattle remained fair. Wildlife populations including whitetail deer, turkey, quail and dove were also in great shape throughout the area. Grain harvests progressed slowly as some producers waited for fields to mature. Cotton growth advanced quickly. Some fields showed open bolls. Water in ponds, livestock tanks and in Falcon Lake continued to recede. Pecans made good progress following rainfall and additional irrigation.