Aug. 2. 2012 - With much of the state in better condition than it was last year at this time, hay fields are doing well, unfortunately the same can't be said for much of the state's cropland.
This is leading to concerns of higher corn prices as the Midwest is experiencing much the same problem as Texas.
"(Normally) the ear would mature first and then the stock would turn brown and die," said Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension Program Leader for the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences. "It is an annual crop and that does happen, but when you are in dry situations like a lot of the blacklands are, it matures very rapidly and it doesn't wait around."
Therefore, the maturing was hastened and the crop has dried prematurely under dry conditions. Still, the situation isn't as bleak as it may appear, Miller explained.
"I would say we are, overall, in a much better situation than we were last year," he said. "But, at the same time, we have had a lot of our blackland corn, particularly south of Hillsboro, was pretty dry most of the growing season. We saw better moisture north of the Metroplex, but if you go east say to Paris, Sulphur Springs, on east, we had a pretty dry area there as well."
Needless to say, this has left many concerned with what corn will bring. Those that have it are hoping for a higher price in light of the situation both in Texas and the Midwest.
"I am not going to speculate on what they are going to do but I know the last 10 days or so we have seen a dramatic increase in corn, soybeans and wheat," Miller said. "All of them have gone up sharply with the Midwest drought. The Midwest probably has 85 percent of the total corn crop in the United States. So as that area goes, so goes corn prices.
"I mean, if Texas is dry, you might have a minor effect, but the 'I' states -- Iowa, Indiana, Illinois -- all of them have drought, you get an increase in corn prices."
Even those that have corn are concerned with the possibility of aflatoxin, and given the crop condition and weather pattern in Texas, that could leave even those with corn in a tight spot.
"It is a significant problem and the elevated corn price is going to offset it some. In other words, do you have 100 bushels to sell at $5 or do you have 100 bushels to sell at $7.50?" Miller said. "You prefer the $7.50. That is what we are looking at now is a significantly higher corn price. The lower yields will offset that some, but it won't offset that if they have the problem with aflatoxin."
With hastened maturing of the corn crop and scattered showers, Miller said aflatoxin is likely to be a problem.
"You almost always find elevated levels of aflatoxin in grains that were drought-stressed during grain fill as it is beginning to dry down," Miller explained. "Absolutely the worst is when it was stressed and then you get rain on it while it was in the field because it can continue if the ears stay red after maturity it can absorb moisture and continue to produce that fungus that results in toxin.
"So, always the drought-stress corn is more likely to have it than corn that was produced under good moisture and good temperatures," he continued.
With many Texas corn producers having poor yields for the past three out of four years, Miller said many are choosing to grow sorghum.
"Sorghum is certainly a more drought-tolerant crop, a more heat-tolerant crop," he explained. "We have seen a swing into sorghum production to reduce the risk of aflatoxins and also just to reduce yield loss associated with dry, hot weather."
This is something that Miller expects will continue in the state for some time into the future, but he says there is an upside. According to Miller, there are people working on the farm ledger who are trying to produce a 'drought-tolerant corn.'
Another facet adding to the light at the end of the tunnel is that other products are being developed to protect against aflatoxins as well. So, even when dry seasons are experienced, corn producers may be able to get viable yields out of their crop.
"I am suspecting we will see a significant amount of aflatoxin," Miller said. "But, one thing that is very promising, is a lot of growers are using a compound called Aflaguard that is a form of Aspergillus flavus that doesn't have a toxin in it. If they treat their fields with that, it competes with the toxigenic string and you tend to have significantly less aflatxoin. You won't not have it, but you will have less of it. Most in Northeast Texas are using a form of that non-toxic Aspergillus string to combat the problem."
Although by the looks of it the Texas corn crop is fairly dry, the situation could be worse and many are working to make it better for the future -- In the meantime, sorghum might remain a common site in many Texas fields.