Travel through northwestern Kansas and you’ll see plenty of variability in the winter wheat crop.
Rooks County farmer Stephen Bigge, believes wheat planted on the family farm during the third week in September looks good. Some of the crop seeded October 10 or later probably won’t yield as well and an early November freeze hammered some of the newly emerging crop.
“We won’t harvest a bumper crop; however there’s some really good wheat in this county,” Bigge says. “On the other hand, some wheat fields will not even be cut.”
As of May 20, the wheat fields sported a deep green color. Much of the crop stood knee high.
While most of the wheat looks good viewed from the roads, walking into the crop often reveals a different story.
Some of the fields didn’t develop the stand needed to get the quantity of tillers to complete the crop, Bigge says. The later planted wheat looks good, but the stand is thin.
Bigge planted the wheat crop in good moisture last fall. But then the weather turned dry and his wheat crop received little moisture until mid-April.
The last 30 days of moisture has been plentiful and timely. Fields have received from two inches to nearly eight inches.
“We’re thankful for the moisture that’s fallen, Bigge says. “We’re a lot greener out here than we have been the last several years.”
The northwestern Kansas farmer has conducted stand counts in the fields. He’s recorded yield estimates between 45 and 55 bushels.
“I believe this year’s crop is going to surprise some of our farmers once they pull into the fields for harvest,” Bigge says. “I’m crossing my fingers the (favorable) weather holds. A harvest like that would be tremendous this year.”
Bigge believes harvest will come early this year. If the temperatures warm into the 80s and low 90s, he figures to start cutting wheat June 10.
Some of the early wheat he planted was a short-season variety. As of the third week in May, the heads already contain a half to three-quarter sized berry. With warmer weather, it will not take long to finish the kernels out.
“I believe the potential for a good harvest is out there,” Bigge says pointing to his crop.
Still as any Kansas wheat farmer will tell you, “never count your crop until it’s in the bin.”
Three years ago, Bigge parked the machines next to a field and prepared to begin harvest the next morning.
“It hailed us out that night before we could begin,” he says. “You just have to wait, hope for the best and pray.”
Until then Bigge will do what farmers have done for decades, keep an eye on the sky, the weather app on their smart phones and an ear to the radio. And while harvest may be just around the corner, he cannot wait for it to begin.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion