Tour Battles Weather to Scout Drought Stressed Wheat Crop

By Julia Debes, contributing editor, assistant director of communications with U.S. Wheat Associates

Despite rain, bitter cold and bellowing winds, scouts saw clear, consistent evidence of drought stress on the first day of the annual HRW Wheat Quality Tour.

Scouts in 20 vans made 271 stops on the first day of the tour from Manhattan to Colby. Overall, the groups reported an average of 34.7 bushels per acre, well below last year’s average and the five-year average, both at 43.8 bushels per acre. This also is the lowest Day 1 average since 2001, when scouts reported an average of 32.6 bushels per acre.

Overall, Tuesday’s reports indicated the wheat crop in the northern half of the state is behind normal crop progress, short and in need of moisture soon.

“Moisture is definitely our limiting factor,” Jeanne Falk-Jones, northwest area extension specialist with K-State Research and Extension, said. “Looking at rainfall factors, there is no reason the wheat should even should be looking this good. The cool weather lately has helped preserve the good stand established last fall, but high winds continue to threaten the crop.”

Just 21 percent of the wheat crop was rated good to excellent as of April 28, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

On his first wheat tour, Josh Roe, economist with the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said, “A lot of the wheat looks better from the road than when you get out in it. It is thinner and shorter crop than we would hope for at this time of year.”

Overall, NASS reported that 56 percent of the Kansas wheat crop was jointed as of April 28, compared to 74 percent five-year average. Just 4 percent is headed, slightly behind the five-year average of 9 percent.

The crop’s maturity compares to this time last year, but the lack of high yield estimates through Central Kansas is a big concern, according to Daryl Strouts, executive director of the Kansas Wheat Alliance. He explained that high yields of 70 up to 80 bushels per acre last year near Chapman, Abilene and Salina pulled up the yield average for the state. This year, those same areas had yield estimates of just 30 to 45 bushels per acre.

As low as Tuesday’s yield estimates were, the tour will travel from Colby to Wichita on Wednesday, traversing the western half of the state. There, drought conditions continue to persist for the fourth year in a row in some places.

“Tomorrow will be worse, with highly variable wheat in our area,” said Rich Randall, Kansas Wheat commissioner who farms Scott City, Kansas. “Moisture in the next 30 days is critical and important to more than just the wheat crop, extending into planting decisions for the rest of the spring.”

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