Crop Conditions Deteriorate as Drought Invades Kansas

Posted December 1, 2016

Much needed moisture makes the top of many Kansas wheat farmers’ 2016 Christmas wish lists. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, much of western Kansas is currently in moderate to severe drought just a few weeks after the entirety of the state was declared drought free for the first time in six years.

According to Romulo Lollato, wheat and forages extension specialist for Kansas State University’s Department of Agronomy, Kansas crop conditions vary greatly.

“We have very contrasting conditions statewide,” said Lollato. “In south central and southeast, Kansas planting was delayed in many cases due to excess moisture in the region. Western Kansas wheat has gotten a rough start since there hasn’t been much moisture since many fields were planted.  Producers who planted earlier generally have a pretty good start, but producers who waited for that optimal plant time in western Kansas haven’t seen much rain.”

In central and eastern portions of the state, Lollato reports that even though planting was late, temperatures were warm, so the crop has had a good chance to catch up in development.

“In some cases we’re seeing some pretty lush growth to the crop, particularly in the central corridor,” said Lollato.

Southwest Kansas has been dry over the last few weeks, but subsoil moisture for the area remains adequate from a moist summer. Northwest Kansas has seen some recent moisture in the form of snowfall, but that small amount of snow is the only moisture the crop has received in the last two months.

“The western region has had a pretty rough start, and just about everyone is needing some precipitation,” said Lollato. “When traveling, particularly in the southwest Kansas area, you’ll see some fields that are pretty thin.”

Gary Millershaski, a farmer from Lakin, reported that his thicker stands are a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Severe drought conditions are now impacting winter wheat. Photo by Gary Millershaski.
“It looks decent, but we had wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour on Sunday, and that wind just kicked up wheat plants as it went,” said Millershaski. “It’s a decent stand, but we haven’t had a measurable rain in my part of the county since August 6th or 7th. We just really need that moisture for the roots to develop down deeply.”

The Kansas Crop Progress and Condition report from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service lists topsoil moisture rated 14 percent very short, 31 short, 53 adequate, and 2 surplus. Subsoil moisture is rated 8 percent very short, 27 short, 64 adequate, and 1 surplus. Winter wheat condition rated 3 percent very poor, 10 poor, 35 fair, 45 good, and 7 excellent. Winter wheat emerged was 96 percent, near 98 both last year and the five-year average.

Lack of moisture isn’t the only challenge facing the 2017 Kansas wheat crop. Lollato has reported several diseases already rearing their heads statewide. Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus has already been spotted throughout Kansas. Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus can cause severe economic damage, and in most cases infection can be traced to a nearby field of volunteer wheat. The diseases are carried from volunteer wheat to newly planted wheat, and can cause stunting and yellow streaking on the leaves of the plant.

“There’s really nothing we can do about Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus at this point for the current crop, but controlling the green bridge for next year’s crop will be vital,” said Lollato.

It’s never too early to start planning for good management practices. According to the K-State Department of Agronomy, volunteer wheat within a half-mile of a field that will be planted to wheat should be completely dead for at least two weeks prior to wheat planting. Doing so will help control wheat curl mites (carriers of viruses like Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus), Hessian fly and greenbugs.

Lollato has also seen many reports of leaf rust from Salina to the northwest corner of the state.  While the visible rust and potential for yellowing leaves may be startling, Lollato reassured that the disease most likely won’t survive through the winter, but advised keeping a close eye on disease pressure while scouting in the spring. Other issues that some farmers may see include yellow leaves, a potential sign of nitrogen deficiency.

“We had a lot of rainfall during the summer which, in addition to a high yielding wheat crop, may have depleted a lot of nitrogen from the soil profile,” said Lollato. “For producers who applied their nitrogen, yellowing may be attributed to drought stress since plant roots may not be able to draw up that applied nitrogen.”

While management practices can greatly affect yields, what wheat needs now is some help from Mother Nature.

“What this crop really needs is for temperatures to cool down and rain or snow to fall,” said Lollato.