Warm winter brings mixed news for beef, wheat

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
by Jerry Engler




Cattlemen have had reason to celebrate the warm, dry winter while wheat growers worry what will happen to the growing winter crop.


If you raise both cattle and wheat, it’s hard to know whether to dance or shuffle, laugh or cry. There’s pests that can live over in the warmth too: army worms already have been reported by Kansas State Extension and there’s speculation about chinch bugs and green bugs.


Take heart, though. There’s still a chance to have it be a good year for both cattle and wheat.


Rickey Roberts, Marion County agricultural agent, called wheat “a darned resilient” crop.


“There are people concerned about the wheat, and I don’t mean to say they don’t have reason to be concerned,” Roberts said. “It is stressed. They’re concerned about whether there’s enough roots in the dry soil to survive.


“Wheat is really varied across the county. I’ve seen some wheat that looks excellent and some that looks pretty tough. Some had some rain on it when it was planted, and some didn’t get a drop.


“But the moment we think the conditions are wrecking the wheat crop, it can bounce back and sometimes make a record crop. It’s a tough plant.


“As long as we can get into March, and get some good spring rains, I think we’ll be OK. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather have rain or snow right now as much as the next guy. If we don’t get it this spring, we’ll really be crying.


“If it will stay moderately cold so the wheat stays dormant, that will help it make it.”


Roberts said the top soil is very dry, but there’s still moisture in the subsoil. But since the young wheat is only rooted into the topsoil that makes a problem if the cold happens to get too severe without more precipitation falling.


“The moisture actually acts like insulation for the roots,” he said. “If it gets down in the single digits, below 9 degrees or so, with the soil dry, then we have problems.”


One snow or rain shower may help, but it will take prolonged moisture to correct the situation, he said.


“Our saving graces will be cold weather at just the right levels to keep the wheat dormant and a good wet spring.”


Roberts said the concerns have made it tougher for producers trying to decide whether to apply top-dressing fertilizer to wheat.


Producers also have removed cattle from grazing wheat for fear of pulling up plants poorly anchored in powdery earth.


The dry warmth can be highly beneficial for feeding cattle or cow-calf herds, Roberts said,


“If you’re getting ready to calve, you’re loving this deal,” he said.


Baby calves aren’t being stressed by being cold or wet so there’s less chance of calfhood diseases like scours or pneumonia, he explained.


“It depends on what your operation is,” Roberts said, “but it’s pretty pleasant for about everyone. It takes less feed, less energy for cattle to keep warm, so more goes into production. That means the feed requirements aren’t as great. Cows will always eat. They’ll eat you out of house and home if you let them. Their body requirements just aren’t as great.”


At this time, Roberts would expect other concerns to center on how perennial forages for the cattle will do. For instance, brome grass may be affected. Roberts explained the cool-season brome may begin breaking dormancy with the first prolonged spring weather in March, and the moisture will have to be there to prevent the tonnage of hay yield from being reduced. Producers are also trying to make decisions about fertilizing brome, Roberts said.


For other agricultural activities, hog farrowing is typically indoors in climate controlled housing anyway, other livestock benefit outside the same as cattle, and spring-planted crops will depend on what happens this spring and summer.


“Watch for the weather pattern that typically sets in to give us rain in March and April,” Roberts said. “Then we’ll do OK. Other than that, just keep praying.”

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