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Plains wheat deterioration continues

Jeff Caldwell 11/26/2012 @ 11:42am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

There are pockets in the Plains where the crop's not struggling as much, but overall, the region's hard red winter (HRW) wheat crop is hurting as it heads toward dormancy way short on moisture.

Only 30% of the state of Kansas' wheat crop is in good to excellent condition. That's almost the worst it's ever been (second from the worst, exactly) since USDA-NASS has kept wheat quality ratings for that state. Now, farmers say though some spots have a stand that could make it through winter in decent shape, there are a lot of areas where it's going to be hard-pressed to survive until spring.

"Crossed the heart of the HRW breadbasket today. From Abilene to Larned, Kansas, the wheat's small but has good stands and color. In the west things get dryer and tougher," says Agriculture.com Marketing Talk advisor sw363535. "From Oklahoma City northwest through the Enid/Jet/Alva, Oklahoma, area, the south end of the basket is dry and in bad shape. Poor stands, blue, dry and small wheat. Worse than 2011 or 2012. If you know the area you will understand the conditions when I say 'There are just a few more than 0 cattle on wheat across that area,' something I have never seen before."

One of the reasons for the thinning stands -- beyond the simple lack of moisture altogether -- is what that dryness has caused in the plants that have made it thus far. Kansas State University Extension wheat agronomist Jim Shroyer says the plants have developed weak roots because of a basic lack of moisture and nutrients in the dry, dusting topsoil. But fortunately, it may not be too late yet for some much-needed root development to happen before winter sets in and the crop goes dormant.

"This lack of crown root development is due to dry topsoils. A wheat plant should ideally have a well-developed crown root system by now to help prepare it to survive the winter," Shroyer says in a report from Kansas Wheat. "By this point in the season, there should be a much more extensive crown root system than what I found. All we need is some moisture in the soil and these roots would quickly begin developing."

That's usually not the case. In a "normal" year, the wheat crop's already entered into dormancy. But, because of anomalously warm temperatures through much of this fall, the crop is still chugging along, albeit slowly.

"The wheat isn’t going into dormancy like it should by this time of the year,” says Scott County, Kansas, farmer Rich Randall in a Kansas Wheat report. Actively growing wheat, he adds, requires soil moisture, which is in short supply this fall."

On top of the basic problems to the crop itself, the wheat struggles have had a growing ripple of consequences for farmers in the Plains area where more than just yield hinges on the crop's success.

"Absolutely zero grazing of wheat in this area, and seriously doubt if there will be this year," adds Marketing Talk senior contributor Shaggy98. "Most wheat emerged well, but has been going backwards ever since. I would venture to say the best-looking wheat is probably the no-till wheat, which is a far cry from actually looking good."

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