Bare Fields

A field northeast of El Campo, off of U.S. 59, sits full of broken stems after being harvested.  Wharton County corn and grain sorghum producers began harvesting their crop in late July after waiting for their fields to dry out from the recent rains. Rain poured throughout Wharton County on and off in April, May, June and July, dashing many’s hopes for great yields this year.

Wishing away rain clouds and caring for flooded crop fields have been daily tasks for producers in Wharton County during recent months, but challenges posed by wet weather didn’t prevent some from beginning the 2021 harvest at the end of July.

“Grain sorghum harvest and corn harvest are well under way,” County Extension Agent Corrie Bowen said. “The hot days have been conducive to helping to dry the topsoil and dry down grain moisture.”

Corn is among the first harvested crops of the summer in Wharton County, along with grain sorghum. Rice, cotton and more follow. The statewide peak harvesting dates for corn and grain sorghum are Aug. 1 through Oct. 11 and July 8 through Nov. 16, respectively, according to state data.

Recent rains left grain moisture levels a little higher than would be desired, at between 18 and 19 percent, the week of July 23 when some local corn producers began harvesting, Bowen said. Four days later, on July 27, moisture levels dropped to around 14 percent and many more began harvesting corn after that.

“At the same time, some fields continue to be too wet,” Bowen said. “Some farmers have modified combines with wider tires often used for rice and sugarcane harvest, or even installing rubber tracks to help harvest within the muddy fields.”

So far, corn yields are “ranging from fair to good,” according to Bowen, with the better yields coming from fields that had drainage sufficient to tackle the wet weather seen this spring and summer.

“It rained from late April through mid-July, placing stress on the root system of plants,” Bowen said. “Plant roots need to breathe. Saturated soils are void of oxygen and it limits the ability for the roots to breathe.”

On the other hand, grain sorghum yields are not looking so optimistic for Wharton County. Rains the area received three to four weeks ago were extremely damaging to the grain sorghum.

“Our growers had a tremendous crop of grain sorghum out there this year, amounting to about 28,000 acres, and then the grain sprouted – causing grain quality losses and yield losses,” Bowen said.

Low grain sorghum yields is an issue that spreads beyond Wharton County this year, however. Export elevators have moved the percentage of damaged grain they accept down from 30 percent to between 15 and 11 percent, Bowen said, making it hard for producers to find an elevator to accept their harvested crop.

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