By Kansas Farm Bureau Columnist John Schlageck
Looking at wheat throughout the central region of Kansas during the first couple days of May, members of the Wheat Quality Council (WQC) labeled the crop in fairly average to slightly above average condition.
Go a bit further west to Graham County and the wheat crop took a turn for the worse, according to Mark Nelson, Kansas Farm Bureau commodities director who’s taken part in the WQC for several years.
“We really saw some tough wheat the further west we traveled,” Nelson says. “A lot of this wheat didn’t come up until after the first of the year and when this happens you can count on about a 50 percent drop in yield potential.”
Along Highway 27 motoring south from Goodland to Hamilton County, the team in Nelson’s vehicle estimated the average wheat yield at 14 bushels per acre.
“We saw one wheat field where we couldn’t see a single green plant,” Nelson notes. “We looked for tracks to determine if it had been sprayed with chemicals. Seeing none, we assumed it was a combination of drought and winter kill.”
Topsoil in this region of Kansas was dry, although they did find “fairly good” subsoil moisture as they probed deeper beyond the dusty soil surface.
The 80 participants of the 56th annual tour agreed the crop is approximately two weeks behind schedule. After three days on the road, they estimated the 2013 wheat crop will yield 313 million bushels. Nelson was a bit more bearish in his estimate and tabbed the crop at 301 million bushels.
The tour began April 30 in Manhattan and traveled west to Colby on the first day. Twenty vehicles followed six different routes. The second day the tour headed south and east while ending up in Wichita. On the final day the WQC tour moved from Wichita to Kansas City.
Each vehicle made from 12-20 stops and this year’s tour tallied 250-300 per day.
“We used formulas provided by Kansas Ag Statistics to make our estimates,” Nelson says. “While this nearly 313 million million bushel estimate seems like a small crop, we only have to go back two years to 2011 when Kansas farmers harvested a 276 million bushel crop because of the drought. On the other hand, in ’97-’98 we harvested a bumper crop of 500 million bushels.”
Participants were happy to see limited freeze damage in central and northwestern Kansas. They started seeing indications of some frost damage in Ford County, where in some fields 50 percent of the tillers were turning yellow and were the texture of mush.
Signs of freeze damage continued through the Greensburg area.
“Once we passed through Pratt, we didn’t see any additional frost damage,” Nelson says. “The late development of the wheat crop probably saved a good portion of the wheat in this region.”
WQC participants didn’t record many issues with diseases either. They did note a bit of stem rust but very few insects mainly because of the chilly weather throughout April.
Wheat farmers understand the wheat crop is usually as good as it will get the first week in May. With ideal weather conditions the crop can maintain and if temperatures turn hot and the wind continues to blow, the crop can deteriorate quickly.
One thing is certain, weather throughout the rest of May and June will significantly impact conditions as the crop moves toward maturity and harvest.
“If we can keep a cool May, with a couple timely shots of rain, this crop could still turn out closer to average,” Nelson says.
Whatever the 2013 wheat crop eventually yields, it will be what it will be – when Kansas farmers harvest the crop and haul it to the bin.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.