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Wheat pain & early fieldwork

Jeff Caldwell 04/04/2011 @ 4:00pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Monday marks the first weekly Crop Progress report of the year at USDA. And, the story it tells for the Plains wheat crop is more of a nightmare.

As of Sunday, 31% of the Kansas wheat crop, 16% of the Oklahoma crop and 12% of the crop in Texas is rated good-to-excellent, according to Monday's report. While 34% of the Kansas crop is in poor to very poor condition, that number worsens moving south: Fifty-three percent of Oklahoma's crop is rated poor-to-very-poor, while 61% of Texas' crop is in poor to very poor shape. It underscores the worries expressed by many in the wheat world, like Bill Spiegel, communications director for Kansas Wheat.

"It is still dry throughout much of the state, particularly in western Kansas, where topsoil and subsoil moisture remains at very short to short, for the most part," he says, adding that "slowly, ever so slowly, the condition of the Kansas wheat crop is improving."

Though Monday's Crop Progress report doesn't include data for corn planting, it's underway in the South and not far off in the Midwest, farmers say. Though a rain system touched many points around the Corn Belt Sunday and into Monday, farmers have thus far been able to get some work done in the field.

"With the dry conditions and warm weather mother nature has provided us with an excellent start to spring," says Mount Pulaski, Illinois, farmer Doug Martin. "This past week was extremely busy putting on some anhydrous ammonia, leveling ground, hauling our last bins of corn to the elevator, began a tile project on one of the farms, and making sure everything is ready to go for planting. Soil conditions are almost perfect for planting, but we are still a little worried about the soil temperature and the cool forecast."

Martin adds that, if those soils see a warm spell the next week, "We will probably begin planting this upcoming week."

North of Martin, agronomist Jim Doolittle says that warm, dry weather can't come soon enough. Unlike much of the Corn Belt, farmers in his area around Hebron, Illinois, need conditions to warm up and dry out before much more fieldwork can get rolling.

"Last year, we had all the wheat fertilized and a lot of NH3 put in the ground. Farmers were thinking of planting (too) early, and we were moving a lot of fertilizer," he says in his blog. "Totally different this year. Most of the wheat is not fertilized, and while a couple of farmers have picked up NH3 tanks, not much application work has been accomplished. The weather has been abnormally cold, and we have been getting regular showers with very little heat and sun in between events to dry the soil out. We did a little bit of wheat fertilizer spreading in the mornings last week while the ground was frozen, but we could only run until about 9:30 in the morning. It’s been frustrating, but there’s nothing you can do about the weather."

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