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The wheat dilemma
Dr. Victor Martin

To say this fall has been a bit different than normal is probably an understatement. The long-term average snowfall for the area is approximately twelve inches and we have already received eight to ten inches in many places. Our first frost was actually about normal but much earlier than the last few years. Perhaps the biggest deviation was in total precipitation and temperatures. The 30-year average for October is a little over two inches and only slightly over an inch in November. Many parts of the area have received over ten inches in liquid precipitation in addition to the snow. Temperature have been well below normal for much of October and November. Harvest of fall crops was delayed and harvest is still trying to finish. The biggest concern and topic of this article is the 2019 wheat crop. Some wheat was planted before the rains and much is in excellent shape. Some that was planted later has emerged but hasn’t tillered much. Some is in the ground but hasn’t emerged. And finally, a fair number of wheat acres remain to be planted but for many reasons, crops still to be harvest or too wet soils, and producers need to make decisions. This article doesn’t deal with crop insurance implications but these are a factor also. So what can be done?

• A major positive this fall compared to many recent years is adequate moisture in the soil profile. This should allow the wheat in the ground and/or emerged to make it through the winter in good shape and help prevent winterkill. The downside is many fields, especially those heavily tilled are too wet and soft to plant.

• Wheat that is already in the ground but hasn’t emerged is common. If this wheat germinates this fall, even if it doesn’t emerge, it should still vernalize (accumulate enough cold) to flower and produce seed. It will emerge late winter/early spring. However, possible tillers are set in the fall so tiller number will be reduced and the stand will likely be thin and special attention must be paid to weed control and ensuring proper fertility.

• If a producer is still planning on planting wheat, here are a few thoughts. Don’t plant until it is dry enough to plant. Don’t till unless absolutely necessary. If following a summer crop, no-till. The seeding rate should be approximately 200% of normal if seed is available as tillering will be limited. If possible select an early maturing variety that has a minimal vernalization requirement such as the old standby Jagger. The problem is tracking down seed at this late a date. While it is possible to have an acceptable yield planting in late November/early December, it is iffy, especially as cool as it has been. Warmer December temperatures would help. Some, like the last time this happened, are considering the next point.

• Wait till spring and plant spring wheat. This is the worst option of the bunch. Can a producer obtain an acceptable yield with spring wheat? Work done by K-State earlier indicates yes it is possible. The problem is the difference in the milling and baking properties between the hard winter wheat planted here and spring wheats. If mixed, it creates a nightmare for elevators and purchasers of wheat. As stated previous, some have tried this in the past and tried to sneak it in, however, let’s just say it didn’t go well. As Nancy Reagan once said: “Just say no.”

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