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The 2021 Wheat Crop
Dr. Victor Martin

The Drought Monitor shows essentially the same pattern as last week with most of Kansas at least abnormally dry with the area of moderate drought creeping eastward towards us. There was a fairly decent chance of some precipitation the past week and some precipitation fell, although somewhat spotty and temperatures have been more seasonable. The six to ten-day outlook (Nov. 18 to 22) indicates above for the state. Precipitation should be about normal to slightly above which isn’t much. The eight to 14 day outlook (Nov. 20 to 26) indicates above normal temperatures and precipitation for the state. Today, how is the 2021 wheat crop shaping up?

• First, with timely harvest of summer crops and open weather with few delays, the 2021 crop is essentially in the ground. The growth of the crop is all over with some earlier planted wheat looking well tillered and well established to later planted wheat in drier soils exhibiting very uneven emergence and little if any tillering. Some of the last wheat planted has yet to emerge. So what does that mean?

• There are three scenarios for the wheat that hasn’t emerged, none of them great. First there was adequate moisture for it to germinate and hang on. It may not emerge for a while, perhaps not until the new year with cooler temperatures. A nice rain and warmer temperatures may allow it to emerge sooner. However, it can still vernalize, accumulate cold, tiller somewhat, and if it rains go ahead and produce a crop. Second, there wasn’t enough moisture for the seed to germinate and it’s just sitting there. If/when there is adequate moisture it will go ahead and germinate and if early enough vernalize and perhaps set some tillers. Third, the worst scenario, there was enough moisture for the seed to take in water and start to germinate but not enough for it to continue to develop and the seedling dies. None of these are great but with the first two options, there is a chance for a decent crop depending on the next bullet point.

• With a moderate to strong La Nina developing, our winter weather pattern is likely below normal precipitation and dry. A few time rains would help greatly. If we turn cold with strongly cold temperatures the less developed wheat is vulnerable to damage and even winter kill with the dry soil.

• The earlier planted wheat, while not fantastic, is pretty well established and should have a decent root system. The key here is some timely moisture. The thinner wheat stands biggest challenge is a lack of a well-developed root system. It can go ahead and set tillers even if they aren’t visible but yield potential is likely reduced.

• One of the biggest challenges for producers will be what to do come late winter/early spring regarding fertilization and weed control. Thinner stands are more prone to weed problems. Producers must evaluate yield potential and decide what they can afford to spend vs. the potential weed problems vs. anticipated wheat prices. And good growing conditions in the spring can greatly aid yield.

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