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Where Did the Wheat Come From?
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The wheat harvest is essentially over. While hardly a bumper crop, the area, especially as you move east had fair to very good yields. So how did we end up with a crop in the midst of an exceptional drought? The obvious answer is the precipitation received, especially after the first of the year, but it’s a little more complicated than that. Those fields that missed out on the rains, primarily the western half of the area, had miserable yields so the amount of precipitation certainly mattered. What factors allowed many producers to harvest at least average yields?
* Scattered late summer/early fall rains allowed wheat to germinate and establish a decent root system. Many producers were careful with their tillage practices to minimize soil water loss. And more producers are using conservation and no-tillage which also helps.
* The area actually had something resembling “winter.” Wheat resumed growth much later in the spring and less water was used for vegetative growth. Temperatures were more normal and minimized water lost to evaporation. Also several heavy, wet snows protected the wheat and provided much needed soil moisture since subsoil moisture was almost nonexistent.
* While hardly a monsoon, nature provided moisture “just in time” to keep the crop progressing.
* The wheat was late enough in its development the snows and cold throughout April did little if any damage to the developing heads and plants.
* Even though conditions were wetter and more humid, the crop didn’t have to contend with any significant disease or insect pressure which allowed the crop to mature normally.
* Except for a two days, the well above average temperatures of the last several years were absent until the second week of June. Again this allowed the wheat to mature instead of die.
* Most producers, even with a more uncertain than normal wheat crop, spent the money of weed control and fertilizer. Even though it may seem backwards, controlling pests and proper fertility are more important in a stress year than a good year.
* Better wheat varieties are available better able to cope with adverse conditions and still complete their life cycle.
* With the cost of production and the price of the crop, wheat producers are more intensively managing their crop. They have and are investing in new equipment and technology; spending more on soil and crop testing; and investing more time, energy, and money in selecting wheat varieties.
Unfortunately none of this made much difference for those fields that missed the rain.