As this is being written, students at Barton are finishing up the fall semester with their final exams. It is often hard to convince them the real purpose behind testing isn’t just to assign grades and make them miserable but as a tool for instructors and for themselves to determine progress and skills obtained while also locating weaknesses needing to be addressed. It allows instructors and students to assess the state of each student’s education. Just as important is the fact it allows instructors to assess the effectiveness of instruction and work to improve each class. Now that December is here, it’s time to “grade” or at least mark the level of progress of the recently planted wheat crop in the area.
Like students and instructors, producers typically work hard to achieve a grade of A with their crops. Unlike students, producers can find themselves in a situation where the final grade can largely be out of their control. They can evaluate what they did and see if they could have done a better job. Sometimes the answer is yes and there are always ways to improve an operation. Unfortunately in agriculture, you often don’t know what you should have done differently until the crop year is over. So where is the wheat crop?
Assigning a grade to the wheat crop can be done in two different ways. Using the classic bell shaped curve it would rate as a C or maybe a C+. In other words, if we compare it to all the wheat crops grown in the area over the last 100 years, it’s in that average range. If we compare where the crop stands in comparison to where we feared it might be the grade goes up to a B+ or even A-. Naturally some rates an A and some a D but overall most wheat farmers are pretty happy to the condition of the wheat as it heads into winter.
Most has emerged and at least half of the crop has set easily visible tillers. And perhaps most importantly, unless the weather turns warm and windy for an extended period, soil moisture should be adequate to get the wheat through the winter. The recent moisture will help moderate soil temperatures and provided the crop with enough moisture to properly harden off heading into winter to prevent winterkill through desiccation which leads to one more important point regarding weather and rainfall.
When speaking about precipitation, we normally think of “how much?” and where are we in terms of the long-term average. While important, what’s just as critical is how hard and fast the precipitation came and when did it come. Large amounts falling over a brief period of time aren’t terribly effective as much is lost through runoff and other factors. The rains of the last several weeks were in the plus or minus one to two inch range. The moisture didn’t fall on frozen ground and it didn’t arrive intensely. The rainfall was “effective” in that almost all of it is useable to the crop. If these rains had fallen in August or even early September they wouldn’t have been nearly as beneficial. These last two rains were extremely important and beneficial, improving the outlook for the 2012 crop markedly. Remember in agriculture quality can be more important than quantity.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.