Sowing spring wheat no solution for poor stands

In a region where hard winter wheat has been king for more than a century, news of $20 a bushel for soft red spring wheat on the Minneapolis market really ?turned everybody?s head around here.?

But that?s about all it should have done, said Rickey Roberts, Marion County agricultural extension agent.

Rumors of farmers replanting winter wheat could actually be reports of someone with the nerve to plant spring wheat here, but Roberts doubts it.

As Mark Nelson of Kansas Farm Bureau recently pointed out, having Kansas hard winter wheat near the $10 mark, even though it?s up 50 cents a bushel one day and down 70 cents a bushel the next, should hold everybody?s attention after years of lower wheat prices.

It?s a good price for the crop that is raised here.

Farm Bureau will sponsor a wheat-quality tour across Kansas May 5-8 for producers who want to see what emerges after all of the rain in recent days.


To tear up or not?

The recent rain should give farmers a good indication where they stand on the question of tearing up poor wheat to plant something else. Roberts advised giving at least seven to 10 days to see what happens because, if the rain stopped today, it would take that long for the ground to dry enough to till up the wheat.

Roberts said the wheat isn?t as far along as it was last year at this time when the Easter freeze damaged it because, while last year was unusually warm, this year has brought a cold spring. All emerging plant life has grown slower.

?We can afford to be patient,? he said. ?The guys have all the expense of seed and fertilizer in the wheat right now. It?s not quite time to make a decision. If the wheat that was planted late last fall doesn?t look like it?s going to make it, we can tear it up and plant milo.?


Timing is important

Roberts said farmers in this region really shouldn?t be planting winter wheat or spring wheat at this time of year, although he understands that a few may be tempted to try spring wheat.

He said winter wheat normally needs to go through the winter for ?vernalization,? the stimulus it receives from the cold weather for proper growth and grain production.

?The spring wheat just isn?t for us here?it just doesn?t work well here,? Roberts said. ?It?s trying to make grain here when it?s just really too warm in the summer. It?s way better in the Dakotas because the summers aren?t as hot there.?


Mixing the varieties

Jim Shroyer, Kansas State University research and extension specialist, said the temptation to plant either spring or winter wheat in the spring to thicken a stand of poor wheat is almost always thwarted by the heat of summer.

?The weather almost always turns hot and dry in Kansas by the time this wheat is filling grain,? Shroyer said. ?That results in low test weight, shriveled grain and low yields for any spring-planted wheat in Kansas.

?Protein quality of spring wheat grown in Kansas may also be less than the protein quality of spring wheat grown in the Northern Plains,? he added.

?If spring wheat is used to thicken a poor stand of winter wheat, the winter wheat will mature first, and may start to shatter before the spring wheat is ready to harvest.?

Shroyer said that it also is important to keep spring wheat and winter wheat separate unless the wheat will be used as livestock feed.

?If the two classes are mixed, the wheat will be discounted heavily,? he said. ?The best approach would be to plant spring wheat on a whole-field basis, not interspersed with winter wheat in the same field.

?If the spring wheat is shipped directly from the farm to northern locations, the normally low quality of spring wheat produced in Kansas may result in lower prices than producers expect,? Shroyer said. ?Low test weight and poor protein quality are two of the major concerns.

?To think that hard red spring wheat grown in Kansas will bring the kind of high prices posted on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange is not realistic.?


As livestock feed

Shroyer said the time to plant spring small cereal grain crops in Kansas?oats, barley or spring wheat?is in February. The main reason for planting those crops would have been for livestock feed, haying or ensiling them, or grazing them before pastures were ready, he said.

Those grains could have been interseeded with wheat that ?was a wreck,? but then again the purpose would be for livestock feed, he said.

Shroyer said a Kansas producer can find a market for barley or oats, especially locally.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the possibilities for lowered wheat yields right now are focused on flooding in the soft red wheat areas and persistent dry conditions in eastern Colorado, western Kansas and the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas.


Wheat comes in 6 classes

Wheat grown in the United States generally falls into one of six classes:

  • Hard red winter wheat, high in protein and gluten, used for yeast breads and hard rolls, grown mainly in the Great Plains and western states.

  • Hard red spring wheat, high in protein, also used for yeast breads and hard rolls, grown mainly in northern plains and western states.

  • Soft red winter wheat, used for flat breads, cakes, pastries and crackers, grown mainly in eastern and southern states.

  • Durum wheat, the hardest wheat, used for making pasta, including macaroni and spaghetti, grown mainly in northern and western states.

  • Hard white wheat, mostly under experimentation in Kansas, California and Montana.

  • Soft white wheat, used for flat breads, cakes, pastries, crackers and noodles, grown mainly in the Pacific Northwest and in some states like Michigan and New York.


Spring wheat in Kansas?

Rebecca Martin of the Kansas Historical Society asserts that early Kansas settlers mostly planted spring wheat. In those days, the Mennonite farmers of this area and other European immigrants from prairie regions introduced the planting of winter wheat.

Martin said planting spring wheat was so unsuccessful with hot, dry summers that most Kansas settlers thought the state would be unfit for growing wheat. Kansas promoters, such as T.C. Henry in the 1870s, touted winter wheat, plugged neighboring Dickinson County as a place to settle and planted winter wheat along the railroad at Abilene for people to see it.

Today, Kansas typically leads the nation in wheat production in nine out of 10 years using hard red winter wheat. North Dakota claims the title once in 10 years on the average, according to the Kansas Wheat Commission. That was the case last year, when North Dakota produced 300 million bushels with a combination of spring wheat and durum wheat while Kansas had a below-average crop because of winter-kill and disease.

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