ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
Many area wheat farmers may have some very dirty and muddy conditions to contend with at harvest this month as they bring in an average wheat crop that at one time showed potential of being above average.
The “above-average” outlook came in the days before the late frosts of early May and recent heavy rains.
Those are some of the observations of three men who are in the business of keeping an eye on the wheat crop.
The wheat that will be the dirtiest located in bottom-land fields that were covered by mud-carrying flood water, particularly in southern Marion County to some ultra-heavy rains that occurred in Harvey County around Whitewater.
Mike Thomas, manager of the Cooperative Grain & Supply elevator at Marion, said, “That will be some dirty, nasty stuff. The dust will be flying when they combine it.”
He said modern, powerful combines will be able to “blow a lot of the stuff out,” but it won’t be a pleasant job for anybody handling it.
Thomas predicted that with a few days of clear, sunny weather, perhaps coupled with a breeze to dry the wheat, harvest could start here as early as this weekend.
Kevin Suderman, crop production specialist and adviser for CG&S at Hillsboro, and Justin Gilpin, project coordinator for the Kansas Wheat Commission, at Manhattan, agreed with Thomas that dirt and mud problems will exist when the grain dries enough to harvest.
But they said another problem will be the mud areas in fields for the combines and trucks to drive through trying to get in and out.
Gilpin said the general rush will have an added factor for wheat producers who depend on custom harvesters, because many of those crews have customers farther north.
In a normal year, he said, farmers in this area can depend on wheat farther south ripening first, so they have it out of the fields before it’s time to move north.
But this year, custom harvesters will be waiting for conditions to dry to get into southern fields, and, in the meantime, the northern fields might mature to readiness, too.
Gilpin said this will put pressure on the custom cutters as their northern customers get anxious for their arrival while their southern customers begin to feel a desperation for them to get the work done before they move on.
The three men said state and federal official estimates of the wheat crop seem far above what they have been observing.
Gilpin said the U.S. Department of Agriculture Statistical Service finally began seeing the situation more realistically last week, lowering its estimate of the entire Kansas wheat yield this year from 420 million bushels to 384 million bushels.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t end up coming down more,” he said.
Thomas said dry and freezing conditions led to situations where some of the local wheat didn’t stool out like it was supposed to, or tiller to fill out the gaps in thin stands, so that stands of cheat grass and broad-leaf weeds came up to fill the thin spots.
Consequently, “some of it looks good, and some of it looks terrible,” he said.
But as one of his farm customers told him, “I’ll know more when I’ve made the first couple of rounds.”
Suderman said some wheat developed problems more quickly than others when it germinated in adequate moisture conditions with water present throughout the first foot of soil. He said that when dry conditions developed later, the wheat didn’t send roots down quickly to where the moisture was. Instead, the stalks tended to dry out in the top foot where the roots were already situated.
He termed wheat as frequently a “lazy crop” in that sense, trying to make it in the formerly wet layer of soil where it started out instead of sending its roots deeper.
In May, the wheat was damaged in many spots by a late freeze, he said, a condition he has heard that gets worse to the north toward the Manhattan area.
The wet weather helped push the bumper crop of weeds forward right along with the development of yield, reducing wheat diseases that like high moisture conditions.
“Powdery mildew is pretty prevalent in our wheat here,” Suderman said, “and there’s a lot of common rust.”
He said there’s stripe rust, too, but that was more prevalent in areas south and west of here. He saw the bad conditions on a trip to the Garden City area.
Earlier, news accounts told of producers in the southwest part of the state who were trying to decide whether it was worthwhile to take a chance treating for stripe rust against chances weather could turn too dry.
“Too dry” may seem an outmoded term given the weather now, but Suderman said the spring-planted crops that are benefiting from rains now could face a very different situation in just a couple of weeks.
“I just wish we could save some of this rain for July and August,” he said.
Gilpin said Jaggers has remained the most popular variety of wheat planted in the state, but its susceptibility to stripe rust under the current conditions has been disappointing to some producers.
Other diseases, such as tan spot and barley yellow, are present, and in many places infestations of other pests such as aphids join in, Suderman said.
The Marion County area has enjoyed good wheat yields when some other areas of the state didn’t in the last couple of years, but Suderman said he will predict a very average crop this time.
“We’ll have a lot of 30 and 40 bushels (per acre) fields, but we’ll also see some 50- and 60-bushel yields,” he said. “On the other end there may be some yields of 15 to 20 bushels. We’ll probably average out to the 35 to 40 bushels an acre range.”
Suderman has heard of some farmers talking about double cropping-planting another crop after wheat-“but that’s taking a real gamble” with moisture and weather favorable for maturation time before fall harvest.
He said the best bet for double cropping in this area may be to plant soybeans after wheat as a short-term rotation solution to help with weed control.
Gilpin said wheat’s quality and yield are only 30 percent determined by genetics; the rest is determined by environmental factors such as soil and the weather.
The heavy rains are placing an environmental factor that will be expressed through water received as well as water retention and drainage in the soil, plus an increased vulnerability to diseases and competing pests.
After the May freezes, Gilpin said the crop also was hurt for a while by hotter and drier conditions. He said in southwest Kansas, the rains came too late to help fill out the wheat.
The best wheat news comes from the northwest part of the state, Gilpin said, where some producers have had no crop for the last four to five years.
“Their wheat is setting on giving them better options than they’ve been having,” he said.
Gilpin said that some of the northwestern producers have had their yield averages for insurance purposes knocked down so low over the past five years that they no longer can secure adequate coverage for drought, or single disasters like hail or wind.
He said getting an average harvest of 35 to 40 bushels in this area of Kansas would be an encouragement because it will give a bigger economic push than that enjoyed in some other areas.
“I just hope it clears up, and dries out next week,” Gilpin said.