This past winter was the winter that wasn’t for this area. For example, the average temperature in Reno County for February was over six degrees above the long-term average. With the exception of a day or two here and there, the entire winter was above average and essentially devoid of snow. March is similarly starting off that way. Wheat is definitely out of dormancy, has greened up nicely, and considering the lack of moisture for most of Kansas since the first of the year, looks good to very good. This is in spite of the warm, dry, windy conditions so far in 2016. While the soil surface is dry, wheat is benefitting from subsoil moisture accumulated from timely moisture late last year. Most fields exhibit good tillering and the setup is there for a good 2016 wheat crop. However, it always seems for wheat that every silver lining has a dark cloud to go along with it. Here are the concerns for the 2016 wheat crop.
• Wheat is going to need rain and the sooner the better. While there is subsoil moisture over most of the area, above normal temperatures, strong winds, and low humidities will rapidly deplete soil moisture through evaporation from the soil surface and transpiration through the plant. Is it critical yet? No. But it is moving on that direction.
• The strong winds have slowed down fertilizer and herbicide application. If you speak to applicators, there is a backlog on the number of acres to be covered. There is still time but with the rate of green up and growth, it needs done ASAP. Part of the problem here is also the natural concern of some producers regarding how much more they wanted to invest in the crop in light of the price of wheat, the crops status, and weather projections. However, crops struggling due to stress, especially moisture stress benefit even more than high yielding crops from adequate nitrogen and weed control.
• Jointing – Reports are coming in the agronomists in Kansas, and not just close to the Oklahoma border, are observing first joint (hollow stem) which means the growing point has emerged from below the soil. Some have found two joints in spots. This means it’s time to remove cattle unless you are on a graze out program. As wheat joints and the growing point (developing wheat head) is above the soil surface, wheat is vulnerable to freeze damage. Even though we have had a mild winter, a night in the mid to low twenties for several hours can cause significant damage, especially as the developing head elevates.
• Diseases – So far public reports and reports by private agronomists have found active tan spot on lower leaves which while early isn’t a surprise. What is more unsettling is the discovery of leaf rust in South Central Kansas and stripe rust a bit closer to home. This is more of a concern, especially with susceptible varieties. This is early, really early, since rusts species don’t typically overwinter here. Weather patterns will determine where this goes but disease scouting and fungicide application are definitely a possibility.