Weather, new seed varieties lead to early harvest

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
Genetics and weather combined to give this area an earlier than normal wheat harvest this year with high test weights.


But blustery big local thunderstorms Saturday evening, full of heavy rain and hail, gave weather an edge in determining yields by making harvest difficult in some areas.


Louise Ratzlaff said she and her husband, Duane, counted themselves fortunate because most of their wheat land planted to the early variety, Jagger, was cut before the hail hit.


“They kept three combines going in the field and got it almost done,” she said.” There’s just a few little patches left. The corn was hurt a little. It broke a window in the house.”


Others were not as fortunate when hail ranging from quarter-size to 2.5-inch diameter swept in.


Dora Unruh said her husband, Ron, had just begun to cut wheat Saturday near Durham that was down to 11 percent moisture, but the ground was wet.


Now the ground is wetter, and she’s estimating it will be at least Tuesday before a combine can get in to harvest Karl, Jagger and Pioneer varieties.


“They didn’t get as much (rain) west of here,” she said. “Six miles west of here they were even cutting wheat yesterday (Sunday).”


The hail did damage the wheat, but she doesn’t know how much yet. “When your pay check for the year is finally ready, and it hails, your dreams can get shattered.”


Marvin Ratzlaff, who farms north of Hillsboro, watched the storms north of him and the storms south of him Saturday-but neither hit his home place. He did have fields near Durham he needed to check.


He noticed that most of the year’s weather seemed to favor Jagger wheat.


“The cool weather early sure helped it some,” he said. “It is an earlier variety. It had big heads, and a lot of rows of kernels.


“Then, when it turned hot, it almost ripened overnight,” he added. “We’re seeing test weights of 60 to 61 to 62 (pounds per bushel). A normal bushel weighs 60 pounds. If it tests even 61, that’s an extra 100 pounds in 100 bushels, and it can help so much.”


Some people feel the newer wheat varieties are making harvest earlier, but Ratzlaff said he felt weather was more of a determining factor, although “when I was a kid” harvest often seemed to fall around the Fourth of July.


“I’ve also seen years when we were finished plowing wheat ground by then,” he said. “It’s usually middle to end of June.”


In addition to Jagger, Ratzlaff also plants Karl, 2137 and Dominator varieties.


Justin Gilpin, project coordinator for the Kansas Wheat Commission at Manhattan, agreed with Ratzlaff that weather is the biggest determining factor when harvest occurs and on wheat quality.


He said research has narrowed it to 30 percent of wheat quality and yield caused by genetics, and 70 percent determined by environment, including factors such as farm practices, soil and weather.


Gilpin said for most of Kansas, wheat harvest actually is a week later than last year because of weather.


“We try to breed the best yielding plant we can, but the environment still has the hugest impact,” he said.


Jagger is a variety released from the Kansas State University breeding program in the early 1990s as an early-maturing variety for Central Kansas, Gilpin said. It did so well it is now the predominant variety in the state, including Western Kansas, covering 35 percent of the state’s wheat acreage.


Gilpin said most other varieties mentioned in this story are hard red winter wheat varieties K-State releases, including 2137 covering 22 percent of all acreage, Karl covering 3 percent and Dominator, covering 1.5 percent.


He said 76 percent of all wheat planted in Kansas are K-State varieties.


The new white winter wheat that has attracted much publicity, most of it Trego variety, primarily is targeted for the western third of the state.


Gilpin said higher humidity and rainfall in the eastern two-thirds may make the white wheat prone to sprouting while still in the head.


Gilpin said the white wheat is being developed because of the milling industry’s interest in using it for producing noodles and tortilla flour to enhance exports.


“With more than 50 percent of our wheat going to export, it’s in the whole state’s interest to promote it,” Gilpin said. “There’s especially a lot of interest in the Mexican market.


“Wheat breeding is always a balancing act between giving the marketing advantage needed and also getting the yields needed.”


Gilpin said KWC surveys elevators to see which ones take in white wheat because it is important to marketing to keep white wheat and red wheat separated. He said the KWC Web site can be visited to see the ongoing elevator survey.


He will be visiting this area this year to participate in wheat tours and help in producer organization.


He said organization will gain new importance because the wheat commissioners, which currently include seven persons from around the state, are becoming elective offices after years of being appointed by the governor.


Gilpin said KWC is the largest state contributor to U.S. Wheat Associates, which conducts trade servicing, technical assistance and consumer promotion around the globe.

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