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Variability the only midsummer constant in Plains crops

Agriculture.com Staff 07/14/2008 @ 1:15pm

Wheat harvest is almost finished in Kansas, and center pivot irrigation systems are running hard to keep thirsty, growing corn plants on their developmental pace. It's the midpoint of the summer, and farmers and crop-watchers are finding variable crop conditions, be it in wheat or row crops, in the Great Plains.

It's been a downright strange year, weather-wise, in parts of the Plains. That weather has had lasting effects on the wheat crop in parts of western Kansas, for example. Around Goodland in extreme northwestern Kansas, wheat harvest is usually complete by now. But, hail damaged some fields in the area earlier in the growing season, causing those plants to break and begin a second tiller, according to Ben Brandvik of Frontier Ag Inc., a Goodland wheat cooperative.

"Plants in some of the fields sustaining hail damage broke over early in development, and these plants are tillering again," according to Brandvik in a report from Kansas Wheat. "This has resulted in wheat samples containing both dry grain and kernels at the dough stage."

Last Friday, harvest was expected to be near completion in much of Kansas by early this week except in areas where rain and hail kept combines out of fields in some areas earlier in harvest. The close of harvest in Kansas -- where yields have ranged on average between 30 and 100 bushels per acre (non-irrigated and irrigated) has many farmers pleased; though yields have been variable, many scale tickets show improved yields this year, a welcome result.

"Bob Johnson of the Cloud County Coop Elevator Association [in Concordia, Kansas] reports that in between rains, farmers have cut about 95% of the crop. Overall, this was a really good harvest and they have collected a large amount of grain. Test weights held up pretty well through two major rain events and protein levels hung in there at 12% through the whole harvest," according to a Kansas Wheat report. "As the last few fields have been cut, some quality losses have been suffered, but generally, harvest is very good."

Wheat crop expectations continue on the positive side as combines start rolling in parts of Nebraska. In western parts of the state, a moisture shortfall hampered the crop's development early on, but the wheat around Scottsbluff in the Nebraska Panhandle matured quickly and harvest could begin there in the next week.

"The Scottsbluff area has gotten just half to two-thirds of its average rainfall," says University of Nebraska (UNL) Extension educator in Box Butte County, Bill Booker. "With the recent dry weather and heat, the crop is finishing up pretty fast. With the recent heat units, corn and dry beans are catching up."

Further east and south, wheat harvest has begun, and where the moisture has been in more average supply, the outlook is bright as the combines cross the Kansas-Nebraska border moving north. All the necessary field preparations have been done. Now, disease is the main concern, says UNL Extension crops specialist Bob Klein.

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