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Water, water everywhere: the 2018 wheat crop

POSTED October 6, 2017 11:22 a.m.

We will finish off the discussion of insects and crops next week. However, with the rainfall of the last two weeks over most of the area, what does it mean for fall harvest and planting the 2018 wheat crop? First, it is wet. This column was written Friday morning and so the area may or may not have received the additional promised heavy rains through Friday evening. If we did, the areas soils are really saturated.
On the plus side, the rainfall before Friday should significantly improve soil moisture conditions for establishing the 2018 wheat crop. As we will discuss in a minute, it may also hinder planting that crop. In terms of harvesting corn, grain sorghum, and soybeans, the moisture is a mixed-bag. It shouldn’t present problems for corn harvest and minor problems for sorghum grain harvest unless plants have lodged which is possible with the summer in the area. The weather pattern was favorable for certain stalk diseases that weaken stalks and cause heads to fall over. Once soils dry out sufficiently, harvest for corn and milo should overall be fine. Soybeans present the biggest potential loss. Most beans in the area were ready to harvest or very close. Repeated wetting and drying of the mature pods can lead to shattering, pods slitting open and dropping their seed. If pods dry slowly and winds are reasonable, shattering should be minimal due to drying. Then the trick is to harvest soybeans so as to minimize shattering during harvest by setting the reel properly and watching humidity.
If the plan was to plant wheat after summer crop harvest and the summer crop is still in the field, it may be difficult to plant wheat in a timely fashion. Timely planting may be difficult even without needing to harvest a summer crop. Those planting on sandy soils are in better shape as the soils, except for mud holes, will dry out much more quickly than the soils north of the Arkansas River. After the heavy rains of the previous week, producers on sandy soils in many spots were back in the week in four to five days. Producers on heavier soils were mostly still out of the field when the rains this week hit.
Producers with wheat already in the ground, unless the ground was flooded, were fortunate in the conditions stayed relative cool, damp, and cloudy so soils didn’t crust over. Much of the already planted wheat is up and looking fairly good. The end of September/first week of October is the recommended window to start wheat planting so right now is the prime part of the planting window. If it didn’t rain Friday, farmers not on sands could be out of the field for a minimum of a week from Wednesday with good drying weather. That would put them around mid-October which is still okay. But with more rain producers could be out of the field for over two weeks. So what can be done? And this doesn’t factor in crop insurance deadlines.
As the calendar moves past mid-October there are things a producer can do to compensate for late planting. First, since later planted wheat tillers less, producers can increase the seeding rate. Second don’t “mud” wheat in since planting into wet soils creates more problems than it solves. Third, if it stays wet enough, long enough, fields simply shouldn’t go into wheat. Again, producers on sandy soils are in a much better position to cope with this than farmers with soils with higher clay content. On the plus side, if producers can establish their 2018 wheat crop, this moisture will go a long way in establishing the crop, getting it through winter in good shape, and heading it into spring. Next week, what to do about insect pest pressure.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.

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