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Winter wheat harvest trucks north into Kansas

Winter wheat harvest is marching northward, now into the southern parts of Kansas. Yet, a yield-robber may be waiting for combines and grain carts as they get to the northern reaches of the state.

As of Monday, 75% of the wheat was estimated to be out of the field and into the bin in Oklahoma, according to Oklahoma Wheat Commission executive director Mark Hodges. Most custom cutters have now moved north into Kansas.

In northern parts of Oklahoma and southern parts of Kansas, the story is one of extremes. Some wheat has fallen victim to extremely low amounts of moisture -- as low as two to three inches since the first days of 2008 -- while other fields have seen more than a foot of rain just in the last few weeks.

"Yields in the Panhandle are a stark contrast to last year as dryland wheat as you move from Beaver County west is almost none existent with most yield reports being from in the teens to abandonment. Irrigated acres are also a sharp contrast in yields as they are being reported from 50 bushels to the acre and down (normal irrigated yields would be pushing 100 bushels per acre)," says Hodges. "Last week, the Oklahoma Mesonet was reporting the 365-day precipitation totals, as ranging in the center Panhandle 6.4 inches to almost 60 inches in the areas of northeast Oklahoma we are now trying to get harvested. Over the last 45 days, there are some areas in the northeastern wheat-producing areas, with wheat yet to be cut that have received over 15 inches of rain."

The story is a similar one as harvest is moving into Kansas: It's dry in the west and wet in the east. In a report from Kansas Wheat Commission communications specialist Bill Spiegel, elevator operators report wide-ranging conditions.

"Persistent wet weather continues to hinder wheat harvest progress throughout the state. In multiple locations, harvest began in earnest last week, only to be stopped again by weekend thunderstorms. Curt Guinn, manager of the Farmers Coop Grain Association, Wellington, said farmers in Kansas' top wheat-producing county continue to fight mud, and his coop has taken in just 500,000 bushels of wheat. Test weights hover around 58 pounds per bushel, with protein tests averaging about 11.5%," according to Spiegel. "As of Monday afternoon, Kansas Wheat Commissioner Ron Suppes, Dighton, hauled three loads into the Dodge City Coop Exchange location in Kalvesta. Suppes reports test weights of 60 pounds per bushel and expects a 50-bushel per acre average on early-harvested wheat. The Kalvesta elevator has received 100,000 bushels of wheat with a 61-63 pound test weight average."

Looking ahead as harvest moves north through Kansas, one problem is developing that could escort yields to lower levels. Head scab has been discovered in areas throughout eastern and central Kansas. The disease that's common in the eastern third of the state is being seen further west than usual. Roger Barrett is a certified crop adviser and Agriculture Online Crop Tech Tour correspondent who says he's seeing it in his fields near Courtland in the north-central part of the state.

"We were wet during flowering of the wheat and also some areas we just have stayed too wet. We have a lot of head scab, which has shown up in our fields. The double-crop wheat into corn stalks is bad but almost equally as bad is the regular planted wheat planted into standing wheat stubble," says Barrett. "Double-crop wheat into bean stubble or grain sorghum isn't quite as bad. All varieties have some damage, but Overly and Jagalene seem to be the worst. Overly is the most popular wheat in the blends and stand alone in this area so it will be interesting to see what farmers try to save this year."

Barrett shows one field near Concordia, Kansas, that's been infected with head scab.

If you suspect head scab has infected your fields, look for a few key symptoms, says Kansas State University Research and Extension plant pathologist Erick DeWolf. These include:

  • Large tan or white lesions encompassing one or more spikelets;
  • Brown discoloration of the rachis, or central stem of the wheat head;
  • Developing kernels with a white, chalky appearance;
  • Small pink mass at the base of diseased spikelets.

"Head scab was favored by frequent rainfall that occurred just prior to and during the time of flowering," DeWolf says of the disease for which farmers have no real recourse at this point in the year. "It will be important to check multiple times during the grain filling period because the symptoms of head scab can change rapidly in just a few days. It is common to see the incidence of scab symptoms increase dramatically in a three- to five-day period."

Winter wheat harvest is marching northward, now into the southern parts of Kansas. Yet, a yield-robber may be waiting for combines and grain carts as they get to the northern reaches of the state.

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