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Rain on the Plains helps some winter wheat farmers

Some areas are zeroed out; others have farmers applying fungicide.

Rain falling across some portions of the Winter Wheat Belt last week came at the last possible moment to save the 2022 wheat crop for some farmers in Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas. But in pockets within those states, rain didn’t fall and hopes for 2022 have faded.

In a letter to stakeholders delivered May 6, Justin Gilpin, chief executive officer of Kansas Wheat, said six counties in southwest Kansas that make up 5% of the total wheat planted in Kansas have most of that acreage already zeroed out, or will be zeroed out in the next few weeks.

“Rain won’t do any good for the extreme southwest. A lot of those fields just never got a chance with no moisture since last summer. Some wheat never sprouted,” Gilpin writes.

In Oklahoma, the crop is rated 57% poor to very poor, per the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service weekly crop progress report. Oklahoma’s farmers planted about 4.4 million acres of wheat, and the Oklahoma Grain and Feed Association predicts the crop will weigh in at 57 million bushels – or 23.5 bushels per acre. That’s about half the yield of the 2021 crop. Drought and freeze damage have combined to wreak havoc on the Oklahoma crop.

In Texas, the winter wheat crop is rated 57% very poor. Crop progress is behind; officials with Texas Wheat expect harvest to begin in about one month. In Colorado, the crop is also rated 57% poor to very poor.

Kansas crop receives rain

Much of Kansas received at least some rain, potentially saving the 2022 crop – or at least prolonging its life.

While southwest and a stretch of central Kansas remained dry, other areas of the key wheat producing region of the state (the western two-thirds) received from 0.5 inch to nearly 3 inches of rain.

That has prompted some farmers to mentally switch gears from calling the insurance adjuster, to securing fungicide to protect the wheat crop. The annual Wheat Quality Council tour of the Kansas wheat crop will commence May 17-19. A more accurate portrayal of the crop will occur then.

Wheat experts from Kansas State University Research and Extension say the lack of rain thus far coupled with a dry and hot outlook for the next 10 days means that the outlook for stripe rust and leaf rust is limited. Still, with wheat prices at historical highs, many growers want to protect what’s out there.

“We suggest prioritizing fields with yield potential greater than 40 bu/acre, fields that are under irrigation, or fields that are being used for seed production,” says Kelsey Andersen Onofre, wheat and forage pathology specialist at KSU. “Fields that have experienced substantial yield reductions due to drought will likely not benefit from an application at this point.”

Head scab – or fusarium head blight – comes on when wheat is flowering. Farmers must scout the crop diligently during this period, and pay attention to areas to the south to see if head scab is an issue. Right now, only areas of extreme southeast Kansas, northeast Oklahoma, and western Missouri are at elevated risk due to past rain events and high humidity. However, that can change quickly.

Andersen Onofre points out that using a fungicide to control head scab requires precise timing.

“Fungicides such as Prosaro, Caramba, Proline, or Miravis Ace are known to suppress scab. Other fungicides are not labeled or not recommended for scab control. These fungicides are most effective against scab when applied at early flowering (Feekes 10.5.1), but can provide protection even when applied later in the flowering window,” she writes.

Remember there is a pre-harvest interval, she adds.

“The products listed above have either a 30-day pre-harvest interval (cannot be applied within 30 days of harvest) or cannot be applied after Feekes 10.5.4 (end of flowering, watery ripe growth stage). It is important to remember that early flag-leaf fungicide applications will have little to no effect on scab.”

Finally, wheat streak mosaic virus (WSMV) is beginning to appear in several wheat fields throughout the region. This is easy to confuse with other viruses, so growers may want to send leaf samples to their state’s diagnostic laboratory for confirmation. There are no crop protection products to stop damage from WSMV.

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