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2019 Wheat update provided
Dr. Victor Martin

The weather in the area has cooperated and as predicted, this past week saw good progress with the wheat harvest. Reported test weights overall have been at the sixty pound benchmark and higher. Yields are overall good with some reports of over sixty bushels per acre. Most reported fields so far are in the forty-bushel plus range. However, some caveats are in order. First, you try to harvest your seed wheat and best fields first.  Outside of the sandy areas, many fields are wet with mud holes to work around overall soft ground. Many fields still contain green heads from later tillers that produced grain. Fields that look ready, especially later planted fields, still have grain moistures higher or much higher than desired for storage. Some fields have wheat as low as nine percent moisture and nearby as high as eighteen percent.  Planting date, fertility, and variety play a major role in this.  

Lower yielding fields are out there. Late planting combined with weather delaying emergence, for some fields until late winter/early spring resulted in less tillering in some fields. Thin wheat provided more opportunity for weeds to establish. The weather along with concerns about what kind of crop was out there resulted in less top-dressed nitrogen fertilizer applications. In addition, in many fields, fall applied and even some spring applied nitrogen fertilizer was lost from excessive rains. These excessive rains also caused premature deaths in small and large portions of some fields. 

One final negative from the cool, wet conditions were diseases from head scab to rusts. Disease pressure could have been worse considering conditions and severity varied a fair bit. Properly timed fungicide applications improved yields dramatically where disease pressure was present. However, proper timing was difficult with the weather, many producers resorted to aerial application, and some decided it wasn’t cost effective with anticipated yields and prices.  

The one concern for wheat brought in so far is the lower than desired protein levels, under twelve percent. Several factors are in play. The primary factor is likely a lack of adequate nitrogen for the crop. Proteins are made up of amino acids and those acids need nitrogen. Why?  Better than anticipated yields, that weren’t fertilized for. Fertilizer loss from excessive rains through leaching and/or denitrification.  A shallower root zone from excessive rain.  Competition from nutrients by weeds. A secondary factor, especially on sandier ground is a lack of adequate sulfur (S) fertility. All plant proteins possess some sulfur containing amino acids. Sulfur can suffer the same negative fates as nitrogen.

Even if/as the wheat crop yields come down, it appears a much better crop than anticipated. Why? The same weather bedeviling farmers trying to cut hay and plant summer row crops. Normally, heat and/or moisture stress don’t allow kernels to fill out, mature, and dry die normally. The time is severely compressed, especially with late wheat. It doesn’t mature, it is killed. The weather was ideal to allow for maximum time for grain fill and maturation. Hopefully, the weather will hold off and by next weekend the harvest will be essentially wrapped up in the area.

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