One of the dangers of writing a weekly column for the Sunday paper is the chance that from the time it’s submitted until you read it, things can change, especially when you are dealing with weather and farming. As I write this column, we avoided some very nasty weather in the area and really only had to deal with some very strong winds. Wheat harvest is proceeding rapidly with good test weights and adequate to good protein. Double-crops are going in the ground and that provides a good spot to pick up where last week’s column left off, deciding what the summer and early fall weather would bring. What crops would make the most sense for different conditions? Dirty Harry would say: "Do you feel lucky?"
1. Let’s assume that rainfall, temperatures and the fall frost date will be "normal." Since July 4th is still a week away, options are fairly broad. Since wheat residue isn’t excessive, I would plant no-till, especially under irrigation. On irrigated ground, my first choice would be soybeans, a mid-Group III maturity group drilled at a minimum of 250,000 seeds per acre. Second under irrigation comes grain sorghum with a medium maturity. I would be tempted to drill the sorghum also at around 150,000 seeds per acre. The high populations for these crops help increase efficiency in harvesting sunlight (what crops really do) and increase yield. The downside is the increased cost associated with seed and other inputs. Dryland conditions favor grain sorghum, sunflower, or even a feed crop such as a sorghum X Sudan hybrid, pearl millet, or Sudan grass. Soybeans are more of a risk, even with the higher prices.
2. Let’s assume below normal rainfall and higher temperatures, essentially a drought. On irrigated ground, the options are about the same as #1. Under dryland I would probably plant nothing, control weeds chemically or with minimum tillage. Fallow has gone into disfavor but it can still be a valuable tool. If rains occur and can be stored, plan on wheat this fall if the ground is ready or plan on a spring planted row crop. If I had to plant something, it would be along the lines of a sorghum X Sudanhybrid, Sudan grass or a pearl millet for hay. Soybeans would be a poor choice. Even grain sorghum needs rain to produce. If, and it’s a big if, we had subsoil moisture and enough surface moisture to get the crop up, I might favor sorghum or sunflower. But our subsoil moisture, especially where wheat was planted after a summer crop, is limited and with the costs of inputs not worth the risk in my opinion.
There are other options but that pretty much covers the extremes of the spectrum. By mid-October a double-cropping farmer will either feel like a genius or a goat. The same can be said for those who choose to fallow.
Speaking of fallowing, the reports I have heard in our area indicate that the best dryland wheat was where the ground had at least been summer fallowed. The subsoil moisture available resulted in scattered reports of 40 to 50 bushel per acre wheat. Where I have heard of wheat being zeroed out by adjustors, it was typically where it followed a summer row crop, especially soybeans. Over the last decade we had become used to pretty reasonable summers, if we are entering a period of more erratic precipitation and droughty conditions, fallowing may become more common again.