Late wheat planting could impact next summer?s harvest

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It may be that as little as 75 percent of the wheat planned for planting this fall in Marion County actually got into the ground.

At least that?s one estimate from Paul Penner, a Hillsboro farmer who also serves as president of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers.

Fields stayed too muddy for planting, or, especially on no-till operations, the cool, wet conditions that delayed fall crop harvesting made it too late to get in wheat following them, he said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Risk Management Office in Topeka said Nov. 5 is the latest date winter wheat should have been planted in Marion County.

The date varies across the state, with generally an earlier date in counties to the north and west of here, although there are swings according to local climate patterns.

Crop insurers don?t want to insure fields planted much after that date because the risks involved for the wheat becoming established to survive winter weather grow too high.

But Penner noted an old saying: ?Nov. 5 can be a very long day.?

In other words, insurers often are willing to let farmers take a few extra days into the season to get the crop in.

The Kansas Ag Statistics Office reported only 80 percent of Kansas wheat planned for harvest in 2010 was planted by Nov. 1.

The International Grain Council forecasts there will be a 1 percent decrease in global wheat planting compared to last year, which had a 4 percent decline in both the United States and Russia, mostly due to weather, but also because of market-price decline in this country.

When you take away the share for spring wheats, the decline in U.S. winter wheat acreage amounts to 2.5 percent, according to IGC.

Penner said even he didn?t plant about 125 acres of wheat he had planned to sow.

He said the acreages planned for traditional-tillage planting in September and October probably were all planted between moisture events because the ground was prepared for it.

The ground that didn?t get planted, Penner said, was most likely no-till land to be done after a crop, such as soybeans, was removed.

The soybeans simply didn?t get harvested until it was too late for wheat planting, he said.

?The wheat doesn?t have a chance to get out of the ground and tiller before it?s too cold if it?s put in too late,? Penner said. ?If there?s not tillering, yields at harvest will be down 40 percent or more.

?There?s a risk of winter kill,? he added. ?The roots just haven?t had a chance to go deep enough to gather an adequate base of nutrients to survive.

?Fields that were planted on time, and have gotten established, they are looking good, strong and green,? he said.

Penner said spots in some fields have turned yellow, which is a concern.

?It could indicate lack of proper nutrients, or herbicide damage from chemical left from the previous crop, or perhaps even an insect or disease problem that you don?t know about until you look at it close up,? Penner said.

?Other than that, the established stuff is just looking pretty good. And, we do have adequate moisture.?

The fall harvest is probably complete, Penner said.

?There may be a field or two left to cut somewhere?there could even be several,? he said. ?I believe if they were mine, I?d have been out cutting in the snow last week while the ground surface was frozen.?

There are other considerations to think about this winter for fine-tuning a wheat-growing operation.

Penner and his fellow members in KAWG are always concerned about wheat quality, and are trying to convince members of the milling and baking industries that it?s to their advantage to pay a premium for higher-protein wheat.

Penner said it is far too early to determine what wheat quality will be like at summer harvest with all the variables that lie ahead. Still, it?s a good time to look at growth patterns of plots of well-known wheat varieties and of new varieties to add to decisions about which varieties to grow in the future.

Farmers can also try management patterns now, such as fertilizing timing to increase yield and quality.

?There?s an old rule of thumb,? Penner said. ?You can increase wheat yield capability by fertilizing heavier earlier in the winter, or you can increase protein by fertilizing in the late winter or early spring.?

Many farmers have learned, Penner said, to follow a pattern of applying fertilizer at the time of planting, then following again with an application perhaps in December and one in January.

He doesn?t see any one farm practice doing as much as nature does to set protein. Penner said this isn?t an area known for high protein, like it is to the west or northwest of here where the stress of the semi-arid climate helps.

But protein here usually is adequate with quality standards at No. 1, or ?barely No. 2.?

When it comes to harvesting, Penner said most farmers in this area have become adept at maintaining and setting machines to avoid cracking wheat to bring quality down.

They are very good at what they do, he said.

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