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Wheat Tour to face soggy Kansas fields

2021 Hard Winter Wheat Tour takes off Tuesday through Thursday

For the next three days, a parade of vehicles will travel rain-soaked Kansas roads to assess the 2021 wheat crop. They could find a wheat crop as good as any in recent memory.

This year’s Wheat Quality Council Hard Winter Wheat Tour comes two weeks after the norm, which gives the tourists a chance to see a more mature wheat crop. 

Aaron Harries, vice president of research and operations at Kansas Wheat, says the tour gives members of the wheat industry a chance to see the crop as it matures, assessing quality and yield before it gets to the bin. Members of the tour include millers, bakers, farmers, plus members of the media and grain trade.

“The mission is to get a snapshot of the potential of the wheat crop, at a certain point in time,” Harries says. “What’s different this year is that we’re doing the tour a couple of weeks later. We will get to see the crop in a later stage of growth, and much of it will be headed out.”

Also, much of Kansas has received widespread rain the last week, giving the wheat crop new life as it reaches the all-important flowering stage. Still, the most recent Weekly Crop Report from the National Ag Statistics Service (NASS) pegs the Kansas wheat crop at 8% excellent and 45% good. In Nebraska, the crop is 4% excellent and 37% good and in Oklahoma, 6% excellent and 53% good. Most of the Kansas and surrounding states received at least 0.25 inch of rain since May 14, and areas within Kansas received 4 to 5 inches, totals which can help the wheat crop.

However, while cool and damp weather increases yield potential, it also brings about the opportunity for diseases like leaf rust, stripe rust, and fusarium head blight. These diseases typically move from south to north. Bob Hunger, Extension plant pathologist at Oklahoma State University (OSU), says in his weekly disease report that all kinds of wheat diseases can be found in that state. 

“Near Chattanooga in southwest Oklahoma, there was a report of stripe rust occurring in wheat heads. Over the years, I have occasionally observed this in Oklahoma, and it typically is a signal that stripe rust has been severe,” Hunger wrote. “As far as I know, the grain is not infected, but rather it is the plant tissue surrounding the grain. These reports of severe stripe rust contrast with what I observed at Afton, Kildare, and Lamont where little foliar disease of any type was observed. We did, however, see symptoms indicative of barley yellow dwarf at all locations and some indicative of the mite-transmitted virus diseases such as wheat streak mosaic and High Plains disease.”

Farmers in Kansas and Nebraska also are finding isolated cases of stripe rust, but cool, damp conditions enable this yield-robbing disease to thrive.

And, with the crop beginning to head out, freeze damage from frigid temperatures in April can be more accurately assessed.

Romulo Lollato, wheat Extension specialist at Kansas State University (KSU), reported on Twitter last week that he’s beginning to see more white heads in Kansas winter wheat, which could be the result of freezing temperatures, head scab, or root rot. While not widespread, these incidents could take the top off yields in some fields. 

“We will get to see results of this wet weather,” Harries agrees. “We’ll be able to assess more things than we could two weeks earlier.” 

Bumper Crop Ahead?

The May Crop Production Report from NASS estimates the crop larger and more fruitful than last year’s. The agency pegs the Kansas wheat crop to average 48 bushels per acre, up 6.7% from 2020 and total 331.2 million bushels, up nearly 18% from a year ago.

Members of the Wheat Tour will offer their estimate on Thursday.

A couple of other things Harries is eager to learn:

  • How northwest and west-central Kansas have responded to recent rain events. “I was in west-central Kansas a month ago and it was dry. That has changed,” he says. 
  • How southern Kansas came through a dry period. “Snowfall over the winter in southern Kansas counties had that wheat looking great, but they were getting dry,” Harries says. 
  • Good-looking wheat in central Kansas. “From Ness City to Great Bend, the wheat looks really good,” he says.
  • Status of the crops in Nebraska and Colorado (reported Tuesday evening) and Oklahoma (reported Wednesday evening in Wichita).

Harries says 45 people have signed up for the tour. Participants will leave Manhattan, Kansas, Tuesday morning and take one of five routes to Colby, in northwest Kansas, including Nebraska counties along the Kansas border. Day 2, participants will wind from Colby through western and central Kansas, and end in Wichita, where they will report on that day’s findings. The tour wraps up Thursday in Manhattan. Results of each day’s findings will be livestreamed each evening in Colby. 

The 2020 wheat tour was done virtually and Harries looks forward to this version. 

“We’re just glad to be able to get on the road and do it. It’s good to have some sense of normalcy,” he says. 

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