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Drought, Wind are Hallmarks of Wheat Tour Day 2

Bill Spiegel 05/01/2014 @ 1:45pm I grew up in north-central Kansas, and am the Fourth Generation to maintain and manage our farm; we grow wheat, soybeans and grain sorghum. I'm a 1993 graduate of Kansas State University in ag communications.

It was expected that Day 2 of the annual Wheat Quality Council Hard Winter Wheat Tour would highlight some of the state’s worst winter wheat. And sure enough, drought and high winds have taken a tremendous toll on the crop. 

Tour participants made 271 field stops on Day 2; the average yield of all of them was 30.8 bushels per acre, well below last year’s Day 2 estimate of 37.1 bushels per acre. Results were released at the group’s gathering in Wichita Tuesday night. Participants expected the crop would fare poorly, but the results of Day 2 were disheartening nonetheless. 

“Southwest Kansas is just not good,” says Justin Gilpin, chief executive officer of the Kansas Wheat Commission and Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. Fields in counties along the Colorado border from I-70 south to Oklahoma are simply parched, and a week of relentless winds is adding insult to injury. 

“In these fields we project yields from 28 to 33 bushels per acre,” Gilpin says. “But if they don’t get rain, there isn’t much of a chance those yields will be realized.” 

Fields started looking much better from Dodge City east into Wichita, where the Tour overnights. Still, yields from today’s travel are expected to be similar to last year’s poor yields – which is extremely discouraging to farmers. 

“Most frustrating is that isn’t the first year of dry weather – it’s been back-to back-to back drought years,” Gilpin says. 

Kansas Wheat’s Dalton Henry says the 2014 wheat crop got off to a better start than the 2013 crop. “Farmers planted into moisture, got the wheat up and out of the ground and it was looking good. But then it got dry,” he explains. As a result, wheat from west central Kansas into central Kansas and down to Wichita is showing signs of drought stress. Leaves are curling and turning blue – a sure sign of drought stress. 

The range in Henry’s route was 18- to 35-bushels per acre. “Last year on the same route, the range was 0 to 74 bushels per acre. This year we didn’t get any gooseeggs, but the highest yield was half the best yield a year ago. I don’t know if that will hold true, but it has the potential to be disappointing,” he says. 

Wheat plants throughout western and central Kansas are average about 16- to 18-inches tall. In southern Kansas, the crop is heading out. 

“Essentially, the crop is being stressed into maturity,” says Daryl Strouts, head of the Kansas Wheat Alliance. 

Strouts drove through an area hit hard by drought and winterkill in 2013. This year, the crop has potential to reach 30- or 40-bushels per acre, “if they get perfect weather from here on out,” he explains. “Otherwise, we’re looking at 20- to 30-bushels per acre.” 

Southern Kansas has some patches of winterkill, but drought is taking a far greater toll on the crop, Strouts adds. Cracks in the ground were several inches deep throughout the stops on Day 2.

The tour’s Two Day yield estimate is 32.8 bushels per acre from 542 stops. That compares to last year’s Two Day estimate of 40.5 bushels per acre from 541 stops.

Findings for Oklahoma were released Tuesday night, too. Farmers in the Sooner State planted 5.3 million acres of wheat; the average yield from those acres is 18.52 bushels per acre for a total state production of 66.65 million bushels. Last year’s production was 115 million bushels. 

The tour ends on May 1 in Kansas City, where the group’s average Kansas yield estimate will be revealed. 

Follow along on Twitter at #wheattour14. 

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