Looking For Quality

With rising demand and prices for grain sorghum along with better ways to battle its pests, Wharton County Ag Extension Agent Corrie Bowen anticipates more of the grain will be planted in the upcoming season. 

The 2020 harvest season behind them, Wharton County farmers won’t be resting for long with a planting season approaching.

AgriLife Extension Agent Corrie Bowen expects market prices will inspire a shift in planting.

“We’ll probably see an increase in grain sorghum (acres planted),” Bowen said.

In 2018, around 21,000 acres of grain sorghum were planted in Wharton County, with that number falling to around 18,000 in 2020. The number of grain sorghum acres planted in Wharton County has been down in the last few years.

Sorghum acreage “really dropped, and that’s because of the sugarcane aphid and because of prices,” Bowen said.

Now that producers know how to better fight the pest and prices are better, around 30,000 Wharton County acres could be devoted to grain sorghum in 2021, Bowen said.

Some local rice producers only recently finished harvesting their ratoon crop, which sprouts up after the initial crop is harvested.

Finishing the ratoon harvest a couple days before Christmas, Bob Little of the El Campo Rice Farmer’s Co-Op isn’t left with much.

“Considering how much rice we did handle, we don’t have much rice on hand,” Little said. “Most of it sold.”

In a few weeks, rice producers will be back to work planting, with peak planting season falling from March 23 through April 26, according to state data.

“Right now we’re optimistic,” Little said. “Most of the land is in pretty good shape.”

Local corn and cotton acres may increase this year, Bowen said, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could continue to put a damper on cotton sales.

“Cotton is a fabric,” Bowen said. “With the world wide economy down, production of garments and other fabrics is not that good. When times are good, people shop. When times are good, people eat beef. Those two areas are probably not as bright.”

Adverse weather was among the main challenges farmers dealt with in 2020, along with the pandemic that continues to test the world. Supply chain interruptions caused by the pandemic were difficult for producers to cope with, Bowen said.

“We had a couple of tropical storms come through the area,” Bowen added. “That was challenging, but COVID-19 was probably the biggest challenge for everyone.”

With the earliest crop planting still more than one month away, county industry experts agree more time is needed until accurate predictions about the 2021 planting season can be made.

“It’s too soon to say,” Bowen said. “The rains have been excessive in some parts of the county.”

County producers are hoping to plant early this year, or at least on time. Corn is among the first crops to be planted, with peak harvest in Texas falling from March 8 to May 7, according to state data, but earliest planting could begin the first week of February.

Producers of grain sorghum, soybeans and cotton begin planting shortly after corn, with the most active Texas planting periods starting on March 11, 30 and April 8, respectively.

Producers will be watching the weather in the next few weeks to see when they should begin planting.

“If (the weather) dries up, everything should be in pretty good shape,” Little said. “We should get (the crop) in early. That could change, but right now, we’re pretty optimistic as far as planting goes.”

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