By Marsha Boswell – Kansas Wheat
Wheat farmers are, by nature, optimistic, but that optimism is starting to wane in southwest Kansas, where much of the wheat that was drilled last fall has yet to emerge.
Only 19% of the Kansas wheat crop is currently rated in good to excellent condition, with another 52% rated poor to very poor, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. According to the March 27 report, 77% of subsoil moisture supplies are rated short to very short.
“We’re eating through subsoil moisture,” said Tyler Ediger who farms near Meade, Kansas. “We need a slow inch to inch and a half of moisture.”
Average annual precipitation for the area is 23 inches, but over the past year, they’ve received roughly half that.
Still, Ediger says they’re better off than most in the area, having received a half inch a couple weeks ago. Their fields have a stand, so they’re not blowing yet, but winds have been strong and sustained for much of the area.
North of Lakin in Kearny County, Gary Millershaski’s fields aren’t faring as well. An area that typically gets 18.8” of annual precipitation, they’ve only received 8.6” over the past 365 days. While last year’s crop was also raised in drought conditions, it had the benefit of some subsoil moisture, which has all but been depleted by now. Even the residue left from last year’s crop has been reduced by wind and drought.
“We’re totally out of residue,” Millershaski said. “There’s nothing out there.”
He said insurance adjusters will be in the area over the next couple weeks. Many of the fields that haven’t even emerged will be adjusted out, giving farmers like Millershaski few options for ways to protect the blowing soil.
“I’m not going to chase another crop in dry soil,” he said. “Right now, it’s all about getting by and spending the least amount possible.”
In Sheridan County, Brett Oelke’s fields are surviving on half their average precipitation over the past two years as well.
“We’re pretty fortunate right now,” he said, because the moisture on this wheat crop has come with a timely three-quarters of an inch of rain in October when it was drilled and another inch and a half of moisture from snow since January.
Oelke’s moisture probe proved that even though his area has gotten some timely moisture, the crop is far from trouble. Reaching only two feet down, he said last year’s subsoil moisture was four feet.
“We’re 22 to 24 inches behind over the past few years,” he said.
In the sandy soils of Barber County, farmers are also dealing with less than half their average moisture.
“We need a rain really bad — and soon,” Chris Boyd said.
The wheat plants are small and don’t have many tillers. Fields in the Isabel area have received only one inch of rain total since the crop was planted.
In addition to fields that have been blown out completely from strong winds, they are also dealing with winter grain mites and army cut worms, which will limit yield potential. These pests can be controlled by applying an insecticide or pesticide, an added expense for a crop without a lot of potential.
“We were blessed with a nice harvest last year, but that crop used all of the subsoil moisture,” Boyd said. “With virtually no moisture on this current crop and nothing in the forecast, producers are faced with difficult decisions on how many more inputs — such as insecticide for grain mites — to invest on a potential crop failure.”
Rain is critical right now as temperatures begin to warm up and the wheat crop comes out of dormancy.
“We’ll take whatever moisture we can get,” said Millershaski.
With hit and miss showers mostly avoiding southwest Kansas this past week and few scattered showers forecast in the next 10 days, farmers remain hopeful for additional timely rains.
“We’ll stay optimistic,” Ediger said.
More Kansas Crop Conditions
Brian Linin, Goodland:
The wheat looks tough. Some looks decent, but a lot of it is spotty. Linin said they’ve received 31” of snow, but it came a little at a time, so it didn’t do much to improve the subsoil moisture. It’s still really dry in the area. He said they’re wondering if their wheat is going to make it or not, noting that they may go with another crop this spring.
Chris Tanner, Norton:
The wheat planted into fallow ground has a decent stand, but wheat planted into failed corn where there is a lot of residue has a marginal stand. About half of the wheat in the area is still emerging because of the dry conditions last fall. Because of the heavier clay soils in the area, soil samples show that there are not a lot of nutrient requirements because of failed crops last fall, and only about half of usual nitrogen rates need to be applied. Over the past two weeks, Tanner reports he has been banding fertilizer on. Because of the cold temperatures in the area, the wheat is just starting to green up, so producers are still waiting to see what it will look like coming out of dormancy.
Mike McClellan, Plainville:
There are a few summer fallow acres that look decent and some wheat behind corn that looks ok. Wheat behind soybeans looks really rough. They are thinking about having an adjuster come out to look at some of their wheat.
David Schemm, Sharon Springs:
The area is pretty dry, but Schemm said they were blessed with some snow that equated to 50 to 60 hundredths of moisture. They do see some potential in the crop, but it has been cold. The wheat took some hits of cold with no snow cover, so there may be some freeze damage.
Gary Millershaski, Lakin:
Crop adjusters are coming out next week. Millershaski estimates that two thirds of his wheat will be abandoned, but he can’t plant a spring crop because there is no subsoil moisture. There’s very little residue left and the fields are blowing.
Ron Suppes, Dighton:
Suppes reported that one quarter of the wheat is not up yet and will be turned in to adjusters. He did topdress, but overall, this is a worse crop than last year.
Doug Keesling, Lyons:
Keesling reported they have an adjuster coming out to look at one third of their wheat. The conditions are not good. He said they’ve only received 1/2″ of moisture since January 1 and 1/10″ in March. Things are tough. With the extremely sandy soils, there’s going to be a lot of abandonment. Wheat is blowing out.
Tim Turek, South Haven:
Wheat stands are a bit patchy, but it’s starting to green up nicely. A lot of fertilizer top dressing is going on in the area, and producers have pulled cattle off. They are dry compared to normal, but are fortunate to have received some moisture. They will need more rain as the wheat starts growing again this spring.
Martin Kerschen, Garden Plain:
Wheat is greening up and looks good. They received some moisture three weeks ago. As you get to Pratt and west, the conditions really starts tapering off.
Derek Sawyer, McPherson:
A lot of topdressing has been going on over the last two weeks. Wheat is responding and turning green. Many of the bare spots are filling in. Sawyer said, “If we get a little moisture, we will have a decent crop.” They’ve been fortunate because they’ve gotten some moisture since January.
Nathan Larson, Riley:
Ponds in the area are dry, but the soil moisture is adequate. Wheat has greened up and looks good.