Winter wheat crop thriving, thirsty

This wheat is growing in Harvey County.

By Mindy Kepfield

Farmers who were able to get their winter wheat planted early in the season have good-looking wheat after more than a month without rain or snowfall, but many worry continued drought could harm crop yields.

Area county farm and extension agents agree the winter wheat needs moisture and soon.

“It definitely needs some snowfall on it to get that moisture back into the ground,” said Julia Smith, “There is plenty of subsoil moisture, but the topsoil could really use it, too.”

Planting of this year’s winter wheat began in October and continued into December in some areas, she said.

“In October we had too much moisture and farmers had to replant in those areas,” she said. “We also had people who planted wheat behind the soybeans and had to wait to early or mid-November.”

Sedgwick County Extension agent Jeff Seiler said farmers who were able to plant on time have good-looking wheat.

“Some late planted wheat is showing stress because of the drought,” he said. “Their roots aren’t deep enough to reach the subsoil moisture. Some wheat is barely poking out of the ground it was planted so late.”

The high cost of fertilizer has caused some farmers to plant wheat rather than dry land corn this year, Seiler said.

Winter wheat seeded for 2021 is estimated at 7.30 million acres in Kansas, up from last year’s seeded area of 6.60 million, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Acreage estimates by the agency for winter wheat were 83,300 for Harvey County, 144,000 for Sedgwick County and 184,000 for McPherson County. Data on Reno County was not available.

Garrett Aves, executive director for the Reno County Farm Services Agency said farmers still were sending in acreage reports to government agencies – so their data was not complete.

Winter wheat planting in Reno County this past five years averaged 202,000 acres with about 4,000-6,000 more acres planted every year, Aves said.

“So unless that has totally shifted this year, we could estimate between 210,000 and 215,000 for a total,” Aves said. “These numbers are based on total acres for farms administered by Reno County FSA, so some of the acres may actually be located in neighboring counties.”

The agricultural statistics service rated 3 percent of the state’s winter wheat crop as very poor, 9 percent as poor, 30 percent as fair, 49 percent as good and just 9 percent as excellent in its latest report.

Shad Marston, extension agent for McPherson County said area farmers who planted wheat this fall may still get a good harvest next year thanks to the hardiness of the plant.

“Wheat is a fantastic crop that can withstand so many obstacles,” Marston said. “There have been years where sometimes it’s been wet, sometimes it’s been dry and sometimes it’s been hot, and sometimes it’s been cold.  There is still a possibility we could get excellent yields of wheat this summer, we just don’t know that at this time.”

He said many farmers are waiting to see how the wheat will fare this winter before deciding to buy fertilizer.

“I know that some have cut back on the rate they normally have in fall because of the high price of fertilizer,” he said. “If later on they see they have a good crop, they may spend some more money.”

Warm weather has helped the winter wheat, but cold weather is coming Marston said.

“If we could get some moisture ahead of that cold it could help us out,’ he said.

This week’s forecast doesn’t offer much hope, according to Andy Kleinsasser, forecaster with the National Weather Service in Wichita.

“It’s not unusual to have dry spells like this, but this one rounds out 30-35 days without any measurable precipitation,” he said.

The jet stream has pushed storms into the west coast that have plastered the mountains in the northwest with snow and rains south of the United States.

“It has gone north and south and we are in no man’s land in the middle,” he said. ‘If there  isn’t a storm track over your area, you will not get a lot of meaningful precipitation.”

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