By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Dr. Vic Martin
Placeholder Image

So What Happened?

Well wheat harvest in our area is pretty much over. Some are pleasantly surprised. Some are dealing with the low yields they expected. Many are scratching their heads trying to figure out how things were way, way, better than they expected. Pretty much it’s a typical wheat harvest in Kansas. We think we understand why the bad or abandoned fields were the way the were but why were so many fields better than expected?

What factors contributed to high test weights, good protein levels, and fields in northern Barton and Ellsworth County that exceeded forty bushels per acre?

• Subsoil moisture – fallowed fields maintained subsoil moisture for the wheat to tap into. So while the surface may have been dry, the subsoil provided the needed moisture. And the ability to control weeds chemically and abandon the need for intensive tillage helped.

• Overall cool conditions – with the exception of a few hot days, overall the wheat didn’t have to cope with extreme temperatures before June.

• Timely rains – many fields received beneficial rains "in the nick of time." That kept the wheat flowering and berries developing.

• Flag leaves – for reasons stated below, flag leaves held on much better than normal and allowed for continued filling after most of the other leaves were fried.

• Weed pressure – with the combination of drought and good management, most fields exhibited relatively little or essentially no weed pressure.

• Insect pressure – insect pressure was light and other than some parts of the state where Barley Yellow Dwarf (BYD) was evident, little effect from insects was noted.

• Disease pressure – by the time rusts reared their ugly head, it was too late to really hurt much of anything. Thanks to the dry weather, wheat dealt with little tan spot, Septoria leaf blotch, wheat streak mosaic or other common diseases. Not so much around here but in the central part of the state, BYD was a problem. No leaf diseases allowed wheat to maximize the water, nutrients, and sunlight it had without the drag of disease.

• Breeding – public and private breeders have worked hard for decades to improve wheat varieties. They have improved survivability, stress tolerance, yield potential, and are constantly working to improve disease resistance. Once they can tackle the rust problem more long-term, the big remaining problem, things look great from a variety standpoint.

• Improved equipment and conservation tillage.

• It’s wheat – our hard red winter wheat is a crop really better suited for somewhat dry conditions and able to tolerate pretty stressful ones. This isn’t the soft wheat from back East. It originated from an area very similar to the Great Plains.

Hopefully this helps explain what happened at least in part. I also heard reports not far from here of over eighty bushel irrigated wheat, which helps reinforce the points made above. Maybe next year’s wheat crop will get to experience those "average" conditions we all keep referring to when we describe weather. Before I sign off, I’d like to answer a questions I was asked regarding short wheat and was it a bad thing.

One of the most amusing stories I heard on K-State’s radio wheat reports was the amazement of a farmer who cut thirty bushel wheat that was only about a foot high. Does height matter? Up to a point it does. Remember originally wheat could approach four feet or so in height and we purposely bred shorter, semi-dwarf, wheat. Tall wheat was great for hand harvesting and when straw was needed. Now it amounts to wasting inputs and time. So the answer is really not really as long as you can harvest it and there is sufficient stem to support the leaves and head.