Some of us have gone beyond gratitude for much appreciated meaningful rain before Memorial Day to needing a little time to dry out but afraid to complain about too much rain after the last nine months. So is the drought over? While the rains helped a lot, portions of Kansas, especially in the extreme southwest were under an “exceptional” drought and much of our immediate area, primarily south of the Arkansas River in the sandier areas were under “severe” or “extreme” drought conditions. While we can breathe easier for now, normal to above normal rainfall is necessary to keep the area from rapidly returning to drought conditions.
Reports I have heard indicate that many areas; especially north of Great Bend have received three to five inches of rain over the last several weeks. This much precipitation makes the decision to double-crop soybeans or sorghum after wheat easier but as any farmer will tell you it’s still not a sure thing. Since I have been discussing rotational crops in terms of no-tillage, double-cropping will dovetail into this discussion.
The first question to answer is what herbicides, if any, were used on the wheat crop. If the herbicide program included a persistent SU herbicide like Finesse, Amber, or Olympus, your choices are limited. Soybeans are still a possibility but to be safe an STS/Roundup Ready variety is better as the STS soybean is SU tolerant. Without herbicide restrictions, the most common options are grain sorghum, soybeans, sunflower, or a feed crop such as a forage sorghum or sorghum X Sudan hybrid.
If you are confident that rains will continue or you have irrigation, soybeans are a good choice. Prices are good, Roundup makes weed control fairly predictable, and you don’t have to pay for nitrogen fertilizer. Since the wheat harvest appears to be on schedule to start at the average date or earlier, an early to mid-group III maturity hybrid is the best choice. And since residue levels shouldn’t be high, no-tillage is likely the best option instead of tillage.
If you are less sure of summer rains, grain sorghum or sunflower are better options. Again check you herbicide program first. For grain sorghum, no-till planting makes a lot of sense if at all possible. Maturity-wise, a medium maturity grain sorghum is safe. If you want to increase your chances of returning to wheat in fall, which isn’t really recommended, an early maturity is recommended. If you are close to an area with a lot of birdlife such as Cheyenne Bottoms or Quivira, consider the likelihood of significant bird damage to the crop.
No-tillage sunflowers are another option. They are much more drought resistant than the previous two crops but pest control costs are typically higher as is the likelihood of weather damaging the crop. Bird damage may also be a problem and if you are concerned about generating residue to protect the soil during the winter, sunflowers may be a poor option. A plus is the taproot of sunflower not only helps it weather drought better but also can mine nutrients that have moved below the root zone of crops like wheat and grain sorghum.
If you are really concerned about hot dry weather and want feed for grazing or haying, hybrid pearl millet may be just what you need. It is drought tolerant and can regrow rapidly after grazing or haying when properly managed and with a little rain. Plus it will allow you to return to grazing in the fall without the problems associated with grain sorghum. Next week: so what new rotational crops are on the horizon.