Field Tour Shows Some Surprising Conditions…For Now

In its last Weekly Crop Weather report of 2012, Kansas Ag Statistics reported that the Kansas wheat crop was just 29% good to excellent. This is the worst wheat condition at this point in the year in the entire time that KASS has issued Crop Weather reports.

On the surface, much of the state’s wheat crop doesn’t look too bad. Many wheat fields are lush and green, and the wheat is thick.

This week, I had a great opportunity to see the crop on two driving tours, first from Manhattan to Concordia (Hwy 24 west to Hwy. 81 and north) , then on a trip from Manhattan to Elkhart (via I-70, to I-135, to Hwy. 61, to Hwy. 54); and back (via Hwy. 56). This gave me a pretty good synopsis of the crop in a good portion of Kansas.

Observations include:

  • In Central Kansas, the crop looks “good.” It’s well-established, green and still growing.
  • In Southwest Kansas, the crop doesn’t look too bad , considering farmers here have been mired in terrible drought.
  • Near Meade, the wheat looked a little thin, but uniform.
  • Outside of Spearville I saw some of the best wheat I’ve seen in the state. Thick, even and going strong.
  • There is not much grazing occurring, at least from my vantage point. Some farmers in Seward and Ford counties had cattle on wheat pasture in irrigated fields, but I only saw one field near Pawnee Rock that had cattle grazing on non-irrigated wheat.
  • There is a lot of crop residue on fields; that has helped reduce blowing soil. Fields that had little cover showed a lot of blowing…which is hard on the emerging wheat crop.

Not that I dug around too many fields, but where I did, there is one consistency in fields across the state: there is very little soil moisture. Near Bucklin, I dug for five-to-six inches in one wheat field and felt nothing but powder. That was in conventional tilled wheat; no-till fields are only slightly better.

The scary thing is this: while wheat looks “okay” at this point, unseasonably warm temperatures have allowed the wheat to avoid dormancy and continue growing. Meanwhile, soil moisture is being depleted throughout the state. If we don’t get much precipitation this winter to sustain the crop, it could be in tough shape in the spring.

There is an interesting thread on New Ag Talk about winter wheat conditions; you can look at it here.

And, check out the slide show below for photos from my recent travels.

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