Marion County farmers came close to losing their wheat crop Thursday night when temperatures dipped to near freezing.
“We may have gotten lucky last night, dodged our bullet,” Marion County Extension Agent Rickey Roberts was saying by mid-day Friday.
That said, his final words were: “That’s not a sure thing yet. It might take two or three more days going by before damage shows up.”
In general, he said, “Our wheat looks OK here, but given the last two cold spells, golly, we’re living on the edge.”
Before Thursday night, Marion County wheat had escaped prior potential frosts that damaged crops further west, according to Roberts. He’s hoping, along with those wheat farmers, that the cold is ready to moderate for a true, warm spring.
Several local features have helped protect the wheat from freezing, Roberts said. One is a good, thick canopy of leaf growth the wheat has been able to develop, along with thick stands providing a good insulating effect.
A second factor, which helped create the first factor, he said, is a good buildup of soil moisture contributing to foliage growth and increasing heat capacity of surrounding air.
In conversations with his peers in western Kansas, Roberts confirmed that wheat farmers there haven’t been as fortunate. Not only did temperatures there get colder, but thinner moisture-deprived wheat stands didn’t have the same insulating-type values to protect them.
Some of his colleagues, Roberts said, report rainfall as low as a total of 6 inches over the past two years. In those locations, the wheat crop is lost.
Marion County won’t see anything like last year’s Memorial Day harvest that developed because of the early and unusually warm weather, Roberts said.
With the normal to cool temperatures this spring, he predicted the wheat here is likely two weeks from the “boot stage” when the grain head emerges.
Once that does occur, Roberts said, wheat harvest likely will be another six weeks away—perhaps to the end of June or first part of July.
Participants on the annual Kansas Wheat Quality Council driving tour throughout the state made a collective average estimate of 41.1 bushels an acre for this year’s harvest.
Barring major problems, Roberts said he thinks Marion County will average better than that—perhaps some 60-plus yields.
The wheat tour group observed that some fields may yield at 80 bushels an acre.
Roberts said that as soon as fields dry out enough for pesticide applications, he expects many farmers to begin applying fungicides.
According to the Kansas Wheat Commission, the two main wheat fungus infestations threatening the Kansas crop this year, usually with threat compounded by spores blowing up from Oklahoma and Texas, are stripe and leaf rust—particularly the rust.