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Winter Wheat Woes
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Dr. Victor L. Martin

This is the article where we would discuss a change in the weather, as in plentiful rains and normal temperatures, providing optimism as producers head toward fall planting season with hope for a bumper wheat crop in 2012. Unfortunately that’s not exactly what happened. While scattered storms have delivered much appreciated rains, as of August 22 Barton, Pawnee, and Rice Counties were under a drought warning, Stafford was under a drought emergency, and Rush was in a drought watch. While that doesn’t sound great, believe it or not that’s better than we were a month ago. So where are we right now as we are only a month or so away from planting the 2012 wheat crop in our area?
· Some areas received significant rains over the last several weeks. The downside is the overall continued above normal temperatures. With evapotranspiration rates at 0.3”/day or higher, that moisture has largely disappeared.
· Many areas received some rain. The result of the rainfall was plentiful weed growth which presents two problems. The weeds are using moisture and they need to be controlled. Herbicides aren’t free and if using tillage, a producer is losing soil moisture.
· The 2011 wheat crop was better than expected, especially after summer fallow, in spite of the dry summer that lasted pretty much through harvest. Why? Because after several seasons of above normal precipitation, we could use moisture stored in the soil profile. This year that subsoil moisture isn’t there, so even if we have enough surface moisture to establish a crop, we will have to rely on timely moisture to keep it going and above normal precipitation for an above average crop.
· Those who haven’t no-tilled before may be considering no-tilling wheat for the first time. Not a good idea unless you are blessed with good soil structure and organic matter. Unless conditions improve, it would be like attempting to plant into concrete.
· Those wanting to till had better be about done, especially with any deep tillage. Any further tillage should be as shallow as possible to achieve the intended purpose. If a field is fit to plant right now, the best idea would be to control any further weeds problems chemically. This “stale” seedbed planting allows for the benefits of tillage while conserving soil moisture that accumulates between the last tillage and planting. The greater that period of time is, the greater the chance to accumulate soil moisture.
So what can producers do weather out this bad weather? Farming is a great 20/20 hindsight profession and what looks like a good decision can turn out to be a disaster and vice-versa.
· If possible, with the price of wheat, devote irrigated acres to wheat and anticipate a double crop scenario after harvest.
· Do all that can be done to conserve any moisture that does fall.
· If you are planning on planting wheat after a summer crop, carefully evaluate the soil conditions including soil moisture and soil structure. It may be wise to not plant.
· Hold back a little on fall applied nitrogen. Apply enough to have the wheat in good shape heading into spring and top-dress.
· Don’t lock yourself into wheat through your herbicide program.
· Give the crop every chance to succeed through intensive pest management, fertility, and other cultural practices.
· Pray for better weather and a cool, wet fall, winter and spring.
If you enjoy visiting casinos for the thrill of gambling, imagine the thrill you could get from trying to make the correct decision and your livelihood is based on it. Right now I imagine quite a few dryland wheat farmers could use a hug.