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What to do after wheat harvest?
Dr. Victor Martin

The drought monitor report as of Tuesday, June 18 shows continuing slow improvement in drought conditions overall for the state. Our area is predominantly in moderate drought with a small area of severe drought to our west in Rush County and a sliver in northwest Barton County. This doesn’t reflect the rains occurring Tuesday. The six to ten-day outlook (June 25 to 29) indicates a 60 to 70% chance of likely above normal temperatures and a 33 to 40% of leaning to above normal precipitation. The eight to 14-day outlook (June 27 to July 3) indicates a 60 to 70% chance of likely above normal for temperatures and a continued 33 to 40% chance of leaning above normal precipitation. A great forecast for wheat harvest overall but not for summer crops, especially soybeans and alfalfa.

Until recent rains, the wheat harvest was progressing rapidly here and in fact statewide was well ahead of the five-year average. Overall, for the state it looks like it will end up better than the last two years but well above average. Weather, drought and late season freezing temperatures combined with hail and wind damage, impacted yields. Some areas suffered from wheat streak mosaic virus and other diseases. In spite of this there have been some good to excellent yields to go along with abandoned fields and 30 bushel per acre and below yields. Today, what needs to be considered after wheat harvest?

• As it’s only a bit past mid-June, those areas that have benefitted from recent rains could consider double-cropping. Here, milo is probably the best choice followed by feed crops for hay and/or silage. Feed crops may be the best option for those with cattle. Soybeans are a possibility but a bit riskier and more susceptible to be hurt by our typical late summer weather. Items to consider are residual herbicide history, weed pressure, and overall soil profile moisture. If weed pressure allows, minimizing or even eliminating tillage is preferable. Sometime excessive crop residue can present problems but not likely this year.  

• If not double-cropping, then weed and volunteer wheat control is critical with recent rains. Again, preferably chemically and without tillage. If tillage is necessary, it is better, if possible, to control weeds with sweeps and other tillage instruments like a field cultivator to leave as much residue as possible on the surface. If weeds are large and need more aggressive tillage, do it ASAP. Any subsequent tillage should be as shallow as possible and leave reside on the surface.

• If going back to wheat in the fall, a soil test for general nutrient levels and pH in say late July/Early August is a good idea to see where you are at. For nitrate-nitrogen, and sulfate-sulfur (important on sandy ground), wait until early September, unless planting early for grazing. Some of the heavy rainfall events may have leached these nutrients. Or you may have a good amount left.

• If waiting to plant a spring crop, sample this fall for all but nitrate and sulfate, which should wait to as close to planting as practical.

• Finally, if the past year as taught us anything, it’s that to many fields are too bare and susceptible to blowing. If we stay wet, great, but with a looming La Nina, probably not.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207, or