Wheat Crop Hanging On, Needs a Rain

A one-day driving tour of central Kansas Monday told a clear picture of that state's wheat crop: an above average 2015 wheat crop so far, but without rain, it could head downhill in a hurry.

Daryl Strouts, director of the Kansas Wheat Alliance, joined me for a 350-mile round trip departing from Manhattan. Along the circuitous route to Whitehill and back, we visited several wheat fields and seed industry folks.

Eric Woofter, general manager of Phillips Seed near Hope, says the wheat right now is on track for an average crop. "There aren't any major issues here right now. But out west, we're hearing it may be a different case," he says.

Examining a research plot near Hope, Strouts says the wheat is average to above average. Assuming normal rain, farmers here could be on track for a 40 to 50 bushel per acre wheat crop.

Near Newton, the wheat is at the jointing stage, plus a few days. "It looks better from the road than the field," Strouts says of the small plots in a larger wheat research trial. Commercial fields look better, but if no rain falls in the next week or two, the crop could be in precarious shape.

At the Kansas State University Experiment Station south of Hutchinson, agronomist-in-charge Gary Cramer says the wheat has reached the hollow stem stage of growth. Without any winterkill or disease to speak of, the crop "… is in good shape for the conditions. If we get normal precipitation, we have potential for an above-average crop," Cramer says.  

In March, however, the station received 0.33" of precipitation, well below normal. The wheat crop is using about 1 inch of moisture each week from this stage to boot stage, when moisture use increases to 1.5 to 2 inches per week until just before harvest. Good rains have missed central and south central Kansas, he reports.

"We'll find out in May whether we get an above average crop or not," Cramer says.

In all, the crop looked good, right now. But it is beginning to show signs of stress. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reports the Kansas crop as 39% good to excellent, down 2% from last week. The Nebraska crop is rated 34% good to excellent; the Oklahoma crop is rated 44% good to excellent and Texas 55% good to excellent.

All in all, the crop looked about as we expected for central Kansas this time of year. "We saw what I thought we'd see," Strouts says. "The wheat is average to above average prospects. But we need rain. We're always talking about needing rain."

From the Field

Twitter updates began to stream into our news feed during our tour.

Western Kansas growers informed us of several issues plaguing farmers: army cutworm damage, winterkill and drought so far. Now, we're hearing from Twitter User @CPSGardenCity that Russian Wheat Aphids are feeding on the wheat.

The RWA is a pest that feeds inside the rolled area of upper wheat leaves, usually in far western Kansas/eastern Colorado. Aphid infestations cause whitish/purplish streaks in the plants. (Here is a link to a KSU Fact Sheet about Russian Wheat Aphid.)

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