Texas corn crop up despite fewer acres and spotty rain

The Texas corn crop has reached the midway point, and expectations are for an above-average crop, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Ronnie Schnell, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension agronomist, Bryan-College Station, said 2020 delivered mixed results for Texas producers due to unfavorable weather conditions. Despite challenges, some areas did see better-than-expected yields.

Schnell said weather variabilities, especially rainfall and its timing, were the major contributor to field success or failure around the state. Too much rain delayed or prevented corn planting in some areas while drought created problems for many other regions.

“It’s been a challenging year for Texas corn growers,” he said. “Corn acres were down, and yields have been mixed so far here at the halfway point. I didn’t expect to see above-average yields because of how dry it’s been and how spotty the rains were all season.”

Corn acres down, yields up

Corn acres were down slightly this season, Schnell said. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture August report, Texas producers planted 2.5 million acres of corn in 2019 compared to 2.4 million acres in 2020.

About half of Texas’ corn acres are harvested, he said, with the state’s major corn-producing region – the Panhandle – typically winding down in October. Schnell said he was somewhat surprised to see the USDA’s expected corn yields to be up slightly overall this season due to weather conditions.

The USDA reported per-acre yields at 133 bushels last year, and an updated per-acre yield forecast of 138 bushels for 2020 as the growing season continues. “Yields have been mixed around the state so far,” he said. “I observed corn barely reaching waste high by tasseling stage along the Coast. You expect bad yields when plants are stunted due to dry weather, but timely rain fell in some areas and made a good crop.”

Irrigated and dryland Texas A&M AgriLife Research Corn Performance Trials in Rio Grande Valley, Corpus Christi and along the Upper Coastal region performed well despite challenges in the region. Full reports and multi-year data will be available this fall.

Irrigated fields around Monte Alto and San Patricio produced 176 bushels per acre and 163 bushels per acre, respectively, he said. Two dryland fields further north near Port Lavaca and Wharton produced 153 bushels per acre and 166 bushels per acre, respectively.

“They were basically good yields in our locations, but then fields not too far away were really dealing with some tough conditions,” he said.

Too much, too little rain

Producers in north Central Texas received excessive rains in spring that forced producers to plant much later than normal, Schnell said. Some acres were not planted as producers missed the planting window for corn.

“Some producers weren’t able to plant until April, and that pushed a lot of those fields into hot, dry weather, which is not a good recipe for corn yields,” he said.

As a result, charcoal rot, which is typically associated with drought stress, caused some issues, he said. The disease-infested plants were under stress, and producers were seeing premature death by the dent stage.

Schnell said he estimated up to 30% losses in those fields hit by charcoal rot. But overall, the Texas corn crop appears to have escaped any major pest or disease issues.

There was some concern about an early freeze in the Panhandle and Texas Plains this week, Schnell said. Most plants are not mature yet, and they are susceptible to yield losses, but how low temperatures get and duration at those temperatures will determine the potential for damage. If freezing temperatures are avoided, corn will continue to grow once temperatures warm up.

“We’re about halfway through with the state’s corn crop, and hopefully there are no major issues in the Panhandle,” he said. “It’s been a few years since we’ve been this dry across a large portion of the state, but whether it’s wet or dry, we don’t like the extremes on either side.”