A recent swing through northwestern Kansas reveals a winter wheat crop that looks really good. Stands are uniform, the color is a dark green and even with the mild temperatures so far this winter, most of the wheat has not grown too quickly and may escape the specter of winter kill.
Even in southwestern Kansas, that region of the state hit the hardest last year, the wheat crop looks good. Favorable growing conditions began the end of September and early October when this year’s crop was being planted.
Rains from 3 to 6 inches were reported in much of southwestern Kansas, although some of the cropland near Elkhart, Sublette, Satanta and Meade didn’t receive plentiful rainfall.
A similar weather pattern swept through this part of the state a week before Christmas. More than a foot of snow blanketed a large area of southwestern Kansas from northern Morton County north to Syracuse and east all the way to Ellis County where 14 inches was reported at Victoria.
Scott City recorded 15 inches of snow and moisture totaled 6 inches or more from the rain and snow that stayed on the ground throughout half of January.
Wheat growers remain optimistic this year’s wheat crop is far better off than one year ago. The significant rainfall and snow will go a long way in helping this year’s crop enter the spring growing season with a leg up.
Most long-term forecasts predict normal precipitation throughout the upcoming spring season with another dry summer. Should this hold true, this year’s wheat crop will at least have a better chance than last year of being harvested. With a few timely rains in February and March there may be far fewer acres abandoned if any.
Many southwestern Kansas producers consider the current condition of their wheat crop ideal at this time. Because of the month-long snow cover, most of the crop hasn’t broken dormancy yet. Temperatures have been cooler than in other regions of Kansas where record high winter temperatures have been recorded.
Less growth than normal means healthier wheat at this time. There’s less chance the crop will green up, grow and then face the possibility of being hammered by freeze this spring when it begins to warm up.
Drive through southwestern Kansas and one thing becomes apparent quickly and that’s the amount of wheat in the fields. This year’s acreage is tabbed at 9.5 million acres up from 8.7 million in 2011.
As already stated, planting conditions overall were much better this year than last. High wheat prices have also driven this increase, but continued dryness in some areas of the central and southern Plains also led to more wheat planted. Compared to more thirsty crops like corn, milo and soybeans, wheat tends to survive drought while producing a decent crop.
Subsoil moisture remains a concern for every farmer throughout much of western Kansas. Shortfalls vary from almost no subsoil moisture in the south-western counties to several inches in some of the northern tier Kansas counties.
Yes, it’s a new year and with it comes new hope of harvest in June. While all farmers know that’s a lifetime away, as eternal optimists they’ll hope and pray for moisture, better-than-average growing conditions and storms that stay away from their land.
And once they harvest the wheat, they begin wondering, worrying and wishing for a successful fall harvest.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.