Free Press Focus on Agriculture Dry conditions nullify wheat growth for ranchers


Kenneth Funk would like to have his cattle north of Marion Reservoir grazing wheat, but he’s afraid they’d pull it out of the powdery, dry ground.

Rickey Roberts, Marion County extension agent, verified that it’s that way in this entire area, and it gets worse in other parts of the state.

“That’s if you could even drive a post in this dry ground to fence pasture,” he said. “The roots are shallow, and there are some places out there where cattle have picked it out of the ground. It’s not a healthy deal. We need some rain.”

This fall’s newly-planted wheat, that seemed so near perfection only a short time ago, faces problems brought on by dry weather. Funk explained that there were two rains during planting time that both blessed and cursed the crop when no more rain fell.

“There was one pretty good rain, around an inch in most places, that came when the wheat was 50 to 70 percent seeded,” Funk said. “But it followed lots of dry weather.

“The wheat just planted didn’t have to send roots down very far to find moisture. The stands looked really good, as good as ever, but the roots stayed shallow, and now it’s dry.

“That inch was followed by another rain, about 40 hundreths most places, that by that time didn’t amount to hardly enough to settle the dust. You lost some more moisture working ground to plant the rest. The moisture wasn’t enough to settle the soil, and that wheat’s growing in loose dirt.”

Funk said much of the wheat still looks good in this area, and it just needs some good rain to keep going. With cooler weather, it wouldn’t have to be as much rain as would have been needed during the heat, he said.

He hoped another developing problem caused by warm dry weather would be taken care of by a freeze Monday night. Funk is seeing chinch bugs moving out of pastures, fields and yards to eat on the tender new wheat. He said the bugs have been identified as the fifth generation this year, an abnormally long reproduction cycle because of the long warmth.

Funk said good yields of wheat are critical for farmers to generate a higher gross income to meet expenses in years with prices as low as they have been.

“We have some of the lowest wheat stocks supply we’ve ever had, but prices don’t go up,” he said. “It was predicted to go up to $3.50 and $4 a bushel, and we haven’t seen $3 yet. We need the yields to make the difference.”

Funk buys stocker calves, and backgrounds them to send on to feedlots. Normally he wants them on wheat pasture this time of year. Even if the wheat was ready for pasture, it’s a tough year to spend the money to fence fields, and bring water to cattle, he said.

“The finished cattle are so cheap this year. There’s a lot of red ink in feedlot country now.”

Roberts said the latest moisture to come over the weekend amounted to only a light drizzle for everybody he’s heard from. He traveled to the southwest part of the state a week ago, and saw a much worse situation for wheat than in this area.

“The wheat looks pathetic out west,” Roberts said. “As dry as we are here, they are worse. Some of it that came up has dried back off. In the spring if it doesn’t look like it will make it, they’ll need to replace it. They’ll probably tear it up to plant milo.”

Assuming the wheat gets sufficient water here as it usually does to go through the winter, it’s next big hurdle may be the variety of wheat diseases that have come to Kansas in recent decades.

Roberts said the only way to detect them now would be for someone with the skills necessary, to catch and test the first mites that are here carrying disease this fall.

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