As this is written, Barton and the surrounding counties missed the rain chances forecast over the weekend. The droughty conditions were made worse by well above normal temperatures and strong winds that further stressed the wheat crop and depleted the precious little moisture received the previous seven days. In spite of this, the majority of wheat in the area would still be rated overall fair to good. However, conditions need to improve soon to salvage an average wheat crop.
As bad as things seem here, in Texas, where they are much closer to harvest than we are, half of the wheat crop is rated fair to poor. In Oklahoma, as of April 3, the wheat crop was rated over forty percent fair to poor. And conditions in much of Western Kansas aren’t much better. The up side of this is twofold. First, those farmers with any wheat crop to speak of will be able to command an excellent price for their wheat and wheat in years that are drier tends to have higher protein levels and even test weights. On the down side, with a high wheat price, the decision to tear out a wheat crop becomes more difficult.
Second, reports from Texas and Oklahoma report low or nonexistent levels of problem diseases like leaf, stem, and stripe rust. Since these are typically the breeding grounds for much of our rust problems, as of now rusts do not appear to pose a major expense or threat to the crop. And the dry conditions combined with low humidities lower the risk of many foliar leaf diseases. So while things aren’t great in the area, they could and may end up being worse.
Another consideration to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to tear out a wheat crop is what you are going to replace it with. That is assuming management choices have not been made that locks you out of other crops, such as herbicide chemistry. Dryland corn planting season is almost here. As of now profile soil moisture isn’t good and if it doesn’t improve, corn isn’t a very good option, especially when all the production costs for corn are factored in. The window for planting soybeans is later and there is a chance for replenishing the moisture profile but if that doesn’t happen, soybeans are an even worse choice than corn. The best choices, if a producer is set up for them are grain sorghum, sunflower, and if a market and the equipment are available, feed crops such as forage sorghums, sorghum X Sudan hybrids, hybrid pearl millet and even good old Sudan grass.
Years like this have a tendency to cause producers to either lose their hair or have it at least turn gray. The worst part of the decision making process is that the weather of the past fall and winter is not a predictor of conditions for the spring and summer. And a quick look over weather records for Kansas indicates that the dry conditions can disappear as quickly as they arrived.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.