Wheat farmers gather for information, seek patience

Gary Kilgore (foreground), KSU crops and soils specialist, offers his view of the wheat situation in Marion County during Tuesday?s gathering at the test plots southeast of Hillsboro. Click thumbnail to enlarge.

Local wheat producers hoping to receive clear direction about what to do with their freeze-bitten wheat fields were probably disappointed following two separate gatherings with crop experts.

The bottom line at both gathering was essentially the same: Be patient. It?s too early to know if the damage caused by the Easter-season freeze is devastating or merely discouraging.

About 100 farmers turned out Tuesday morning for a meeting with Gary Kilgore, a crops and soils extension specialist with Kansas State University. The group gathered at extension department test plots southeast of Hillsboro near Ebenfeld Church.

On Thursday, Ag Service Inc. of Hillsboro sponsored a lunch meeting for about 300 farmer-customers at Parkview Church in Hillsboro to hear from ag economist Troy Dumler of KSU, as well as insurance, herbicide and fertilizer specialists.

Standing in a yellowing field, Kilgore said it?s clear the main tiller within the wheat plants in this area were killed by the prolonged frost. But it was also clear that secondary tillers were forming in most fields.

Unfortunately, it was too early to know whether those tillers will be sufficient to provide a salvageable wheat harvest this summer.

And that assumes the weather will cooperate from now until harvest begins, he added.

?I?m saying we have a 50-50 chance of having an average wheat crop,? Kilgore said almost apologetically, knowing his assessment wasn?t the kind of definitive prognostication his listeners had hoped for.

It probably didn?t help that Kilgore also recommended that farmers wait a week to 10 days before making a decision about keeping their wheat crop in the field or destroying it.

Dumler?s message on Thursday was similar, and he highlighted some of the financial tools available on the KSU Web site that could help producers evaluate the best of four options: letting the crop go to harvest, cutting crop for hay or silage, destroying it and planting another crop, or to leave the acres fallow for next year?s crop.

The current physical condition of the plants was only the first factor to consider, Dumler reminded his listeners. Other factors include the extent of crop-insurance coverage, how much fertilizer and herbicide have been applied to fields, and the availability of seed for an appropriate second crop.

Local pastor Randy Smith of First Mennonite Church may have put the conversation in its proper context. Prior to saying grace for the meal, Smith joked that he was looking forward to meeting with ?a roomful of gamblers.?

On a more serious note, Smith quoted the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians: ?I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.?

Speaking at both meetings was Jerry Cady, crop-insurance provider from Marion, who laid out the scenario for evaluating fields, a process he thought would start this week.

Cady strongly encouraged farmers to go with the adjuster to the fields as they are evaluated?and when choosing where to leave test strips if the choice is made to work up the crop.

?You need to see the same thing they see out in the field,? Cady said. ?Otherwise, their appraisal may not be as accurate as you want it to be.?

Brian Adams, representing the makers of the Olympus herbicide produced by Bayer CropScience, and Ruth Conn, representing the Finesse herbicide produced by DuPont, both suggested that producers? best option for a successful fall crop would be STS soybeans, with grain sorghum or IT-resistant corn as secondary options, depending on the availability of seed.

As if making decisions about the future of their crop wasn?t challenging enough, each presenter strongly encouraged producers to evaluate each field individually.

?Every field is different,? Cady said, depending on the variety of wheat, the stage it was in when the freeze hit and even the composition of the soil.

Presenters and producers, regardless of age or training, seemed to agree on at least one other thing: They had never encountered a wheat situation quite like this one.

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