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Wheat Scoop: Western Kansas Wheat Crop Suffering from Dry Climate

SHARON SPRINGS - With much of the wheat crop planted in western Kansas, farmers are now waiting and hoping for rain to help the crop get established. Most of the western third of the state is mired in an extended dry period, causing poor emergence and spotty stands of the fledgling wheat crop.

“I would rate the crop as poor to average,” says David Schemm, vice president of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers and a farmer near Sharon Springs. “Some wheat was planted into moisture and it looks okay, but there is very little subsoil moisture to keep that crop going.”

Schemm reckons that some wheat fields from Goodland to Garden City and the Colorado border to Hays have benefitted from isolated rain showers in the last month. But many fields in that region - which represents more than a third of the state’s average wheat production - have spotty stands, due to too little moisture. “I’m not too optimistic about the wheat crop in this area,” Schemm says.

Kansas State University research shows that, the later the crop emerges in the fall or spring, the greater the yield reduction the following summer. Reductions in test weight and kernel size combine with increased environmental stress to be leading factors in yield reductions at harvest, says Jim Shroyer, one of the investigators in the research project, which covered several western Kansas counties in 2000.

“Although tiller and head numbers were not determined in this study, it is generally accepted that late-emerged wheat plants, caused by late planting dates or delayed germination and emergence, develop fewer tillers and productive heads than wheat planted at optimal dates. This results in lower yield,” explains Shroyer, Extension agronomist at K-State.

In its Oct. 12 Crop Progress Report, Kansas Agricultural Statistics says just 30% of the western third of Kansas has adequate subsoil moisture. Heading into winter, the crop could be dangerously dry. “The young wheat should be taking in moisture soon, but there is none there,” Schemm says. “And I’m also concerned about winterkill, which is worse in dry conditions than when the soil profile is full of moisture.”

The dry conditions have prompted many farmers to postpone planting wheat as long as possible, at least until rain is forecast. Shroyer advises farmers to resume planting, but to increase seeding rate to compensate for lost tillers.

“Also, consider using a fungicide seed treatment, and a starter fertilizer,” he says. “The idea is to make sure the wheat gets off to a good start and will have enough heads to have good yield potential, assuming it will eventually rain and the crop will emerge late. Wheat that emerges in November almost always has fewer fall tillers than wheat that emerges in September or October.”

The dry spell is tempering some of the enthusiasm farmers had for wheat this summer, when western Kansas farmers harvested an above average crop and prices surged to two-year highs.

“I think I’m taking 20% off my yield for next year because I don’t have an even stand,” Schemm explains. “Even if we do get a rain, it’s too late for the wheat to tiller this fall. Unless we get ideal weather next spring, we’re looking at quite a reduction in yield.”

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