Kansas Wheat Conditions in Early Spring…

Wheat in HAmilton County on April 4. Emergence in many areas of Western Kansas is spotty.

Wheat in Hamilton County on April 4. Emergence in many areas of Western Kansas is spotty.

Across the state, the 2013 wheat crop is perking up and showing slight signs of improvement from the poor stands of past fall. In its April 1 Crop Progress Report, Kansas Agricultural Statistics rated the wheat crop at 2% excellent and 29% good. That’s a slight improvement over the prior week. The crop’s development is a little behind the long term average, as just 13% of it has jointed, compared to a five-year average of 22%. Despite slight improvement, the wheat crop still ranks as the fourth worst in Kansas history at this point in the growing season.

On the farms of Kansas wheat leaders, the crop ranges in condition from very good, to very poor.

David Schemm, past president of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, says that based on early spring tiller counts, his farm near Sharon Springs could produce yields ranging from 23 to 50 bushels per acre, with an average in the low 40s. Soil moisture is adequate right now, although “to hit those yields we will need average to slightly above average moisture from here on,” he says.

In Scott County, Kansas Wheat Commission Chairman Rich Randall says dryland wheat will need rain before long because there isn’t enough soil moisture to carry the crop until harvest. Some fields are just now emerging, and stands will be poor. “If we had some good spring rains, I anticipate these fields with poor stands will be abandoned and planted to a row crop,” Randall says.  

Ron Suppes, KWC vice chairman from Dighton, says wheat fields in In Southwestern Lane County, Northeastern Finney and Eastern Scott County look good on the surface. “I probed for moisture in all three areas two days ago and found most places to have about one foot of subsoil moisture on the average,” he says. Continuous wheat fields contain less subsoil moisture than summer-fallowed fields, and terraced fields are either starting to show stress with dryness-induced poor stands on the terrace tops. “So far we have missed out on much of the moisture events, on the average on my farm, since we  planted the wheat, we have had under three inches of moisture,” Suppes says.

In south central Kansas, Kansas Wheat Commissioner Scott Van Allen says the wheat looks good, with good amounts of winter moisture sustaining the crop. Many farmers fertilized with a topdress application of nitrogen a few weeks ago, giving the crop a boost headed into the spring.

Near Garden City, Jay Cook, a former director for KAWG, predicts that temperatures the next 60 days will be key to the crop’s success. “In my area of Lane and Finney counties, we barely go the wheat established due to dry soils, but we now have a stand. Our wheat needs cool weather to allow the roots to move into the soil profile where there is some moisture,” he explains. “We had one hot day in the past few weeks, and it looked as if the wheat crop headed backwards. But since then, we have had cool, damp weather that we need. I hope we are not in a trend of abnormally hot weather in April and May like we had last year.”

In southeast Kansas, wheat acres are limited. Jim Michael, KAWG director from McCune, says it is wet in his area of the state. “We went from a very nice winter to a very wet March and April so far.  Overall conditions are still very good. Most of the wheat has been top dressed but I did hear from one coop that they were going to bring in a plane to try to get some nitrogen on a few fields.  We have had some disease pressure along with aphids. We are in need of warm weather or the crop will start to go backwards.”

Mark Hodges, director of the private wheat marketing organization Plains Grains, Inc., says conditions from this point on are more critical this year than they would be in an average year. Root systems are not fully developed, meaning timely rainfall is essential; fewer tillers in the wheat mean heat or drought stress will have a major negative impact on wheat yields.

Hodges estimates the 2013 crop is in poorer shape this year than last year in western Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas Nebraska and South Dakota, and eastern Colorado. “Still, there is time and opportunity for a recovery to some extent, particularly the further north we go,” he says.

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