Written by Don Ratzlaff Wednesday, 16 May 2007 06:45
A couple of guys were sitting in the Hillsboro Pizza Hut last week wearing crop insurance adjuster ballcaps.
Since the hats made it obvious who they were, they were asked the question they said they’re being asked everywhere, “What’s happening with the wheat?”
They replied they were just happy to be asked the question during what little of the relief time they’ve had during the last month inside and out of the wheat fields.
They aren’t getting much rest.
Their said that even within a small area—in an area within an area in this one county—it’s difficult to tell what’s going on with the wheat. They may be spinning their wheels looking at it.
Casual windshield inspections from a car headed down the highway can make you think the wheat is recovering from the Easter freeze, with prolonged temperatures in the teens that experts were saying destroyed perhaps an 45 percent of the crop. It can look green and lush, the yellow from the cold gone nearly gone in some places—hiding behind heading plants in others.
Inside the fields, it’s another story. In some fields, the grain can mostly be gone with only foliage still there. In others, the tillers that come out from the base of the plants are growing, and may still produce adequate grain.
Jerry Cady, crop insurance agent with the National Farmers Union at Marion, is telling wheat producers here the same thing the Kansas Wheat Growers Association is telling its members—no matter what your wheat looks like, and what you intend to do with it, advise your crop insurer first of your intentions.
Marion County Extension Agricultural Agent Rickey Roberts said no matter what a farmer decides to do with the wheat, the decision is more complex than most people might imagine. He doesn’t envy the people who have to make that decision at all.
The truth of the moment, Roberts said, is “the decision is still delayed. It’s been too wet to tear it up. In some ways it’s the rain that delayed the decision, and it may have made the decision for them. Farmers haven’t been able to get in the fields yet.
“Since they haven’t been able to tear it up or spray it to prepare for another crop. They may still be waiting for crop (insurance) adjusters to show up.”
But Cady said if farmers are waiting on the adjusters, “It’s really too early to tell what final losses are going to be. Until we can see how these new tillers grow, see how the wheat continues to develop—it all has to happen before final appraisals are made.
“We do anticipate paying out losses this year,” he added. “We have damage, but nobody knows the exact extent of it. We are asking that if our farmers tear up the wheat, they leave strips of it between the rows of other crops so we can measure what yield would have been.”
Cady said on a recent tour with Congressman Jerry Moran, viewers were told that a damaged field north of McPherson looked like it would still come in at 25 bushels per acre.
Roberts said even fields like that can be tricky to estimate. He said for the farmer with a field expected to make a five-bushel yield it may be easier to make the decision to go with something else.
“We aren’t expecting fields to just lay there this summer,” Cady said. “Something will be harvested from them.
“Other fields may look like they’ll come in at 10 to 15 bushels an acre. Then the decision starts to get a little more complicated”
Robert said a farmer could tear up such fields as the latter, and plant spring crops such as milo or soybeans. But there is no way to predict where the weather will go from here. They may have passed up the chance to have at least a meager harvest only to have dry weather set in to limit any gain on milo or beans.
What is more sure at this point than anything, Roberts said, is that the cold weather delayed wheat harvest probably by 30 days for some fields and up to six weeks for others. He said that early on, with the unusual warm March weather, the wheat had moved ahead so fast that most producers were looking for a June 1 harvest.
But there is a traditional rule of thumb in growing wheat, Roberts said, that from the time the first green heads appear, harvest is a month away. The cold blast delayed everything, Roberts bsaid, to where the first cutting will be the end of June. Fields that haven’t begun heading, he said, probably are delayed into July.
This means the wheat crop could take another hit. Roberts said wheat heads fill in best with cooler weather. If June and July turn hot, the heads might not fill well.
He added, “If we really knew what the wheat is going to make, it could be a lot easier. Producers would know where to bet their money. But it’s easy to be pretty cautious in these conditions.
“This crop is still a long way from being in the bin.”