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Farmers Frustrated by Winter Wheat Planting Delays

Wet conditions are pushing the RMA crop insurance planting dates.

The waiting game that is winter wheat planting 2018 is about to run out of time.

In Kansas – traditionally the nation’s largest producer of winter wheat – the USDA’s Risk Management Agency Planting Deadlines for Kansas ranges from October 15 (northwest Kansas) to November 15 (southeast Kansas).

Delays in planting caused by rain have stalled planting progress so far, and could prompt farmers to halt wheat planting altogether and wait until corn, grain sorghum, or soybean planting in 2019.

Ken Wood is one of those who waits – patiently – for improved planting conditions.

The Chapman, Kansas, farmer has planted about half his wheat crop on continuous acres, or ground on which consecutive wheat crops is grown. Wood planned to plant the rest of his 2019 wheat crop into soybean stubble after harvest, a common practice in the Wheat Belt. But harvest is at a standstill, after rain events in mid-October and again this past week.

“It is really frustrating. The timing was just awful with the rains we’ve received,” says Wood, who also serves as president of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. “We had just finished planting some continuous wheat, and then it rained.

“I’d intended to get a bunch of soybean ground planted back to wheat, but I don’t know,” he adds.

And now, growers are worried about replanting wheat acres that were planted weeks ago but have not yet emerged. Before a half-inch of precipitation fell earlier this week, Wood replanted about 100 acres of wheat.

Just 67% of the Kansas wheat crop was planted by October 21 according to the weekly Crop Progress Report, issued by the National Agriculture Statistics Service.

Wood has friends who hadn’t planted any wheat prior to the mid-October rains. The October 31 RMA deadline for his area looms large.

“We’re trying to get everything done in a week’s time, but we don’t have the manpower or the cooperation from Mother Nature,” he explains.

In Sumner County, Kansas – typically the largest wheat producing county in the Wheat State – just 10% of the wheat acres have been planted as of October 23, reckons Scott Van Allen, who farms near Clearwater. The RMA Deadline in Sumner County is November 5.

Justin Gilpin, CEO of the grower advocacy group Kansas Wheat, says Kansas Congressman Roger Marshall and Senators Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts have sent a letter to RMA requesting an extension of planting dates. Those dates are the deadline for producers to obtain full coverage on federally subsidized crop insurance. Growers can still obtain crop insurance if they plant after the deadline, but the coverage will be reduced.  

Texas Trouble

Planting progress is slow in Texas, too, says Steelee Fischbacher, director of policy at Texas Wheat. Areas of Texas received between 3 and 8 inches of rain last week, which could keep farmers in the Blacklands Central area – or west Texas, south of the Oklahoma border – out of the field for at least three weeks.

Although the RMA Crop Insurance Deadlines in Texas are in December, a planting delay until then could prompt farmers to abandon wheat this year in favor of planting corn in 2019.

Kansas farmers grew about 7.7 million acres in 2018; Texas, roughly 6 million acres. A forecast of slightly higher cash wheat prices in 2019 had industry experts projecting more wheat acres planted this fall. However, the combination of wet field conditions and a late fall harvest limiting double-crop planting possibilities has dampened those expectations.  

“Kansas will be lucky to end up with acres flat to last year,” Gilpin says. “You can make a strong argument that acres in Texas and Kansas will both be down year on year.”

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