By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
Despite some recent dustings of snow across the area, Southwest Kansas is still in the midst of a drought, and the dry conditions are playing some havoc with crops in the region.
Only 36 percent of Kansas’ winter wheat crop was reported in fair condition for January, and Seward County K-State Agent Mike Hanson said the shape of local wheat seems to be following that trend.
“We have some irrigated wheat that is considered good to excellent,” he said. “These extremely cold temperatures and wind chill factors could take their toll.”
Hanson said winter kill is definitely a concern.
“Most of the dryland wheat is struggling,” he said. “I would say most of the area could be classified as poor. We had to dust in a lot of the wheat during planting, and some did not even germinate.”
A report from Kansas Ag Connection said only 18 percent of the state’s wheat had seen light to moderate wind damage, but Hanson suspects high winds such as were seen Tuesday may increase the level of wind damage to crops.
“There is very little snow to protect the wheat a lot of soil from moving,” he said. “This will cause hardship on those tender wheat plants.”
Reports show 14 percent of Kansas wheat has seen some light freeze damage, with only 3 percent getting severe damage. As to how much of Southwest Kansas has seen harm from freezes, Hanson said this is “the million dollar question.”
“With below zero temperatures and -25 wind chills, we are seeing damage,” he said. “Where the wheat has some residue to cover it, we will see less freeze damage. I would say the majority of our wheat will have moderate to heavy damage from all of these factors.”
Hanson said some the wheat planted in the area did not germinate, and with some good and timely moisture, the area could have some “spring wheat.”
“When this type of situation occurs, we normally see a reduction in the yields from 30 to 60 percent,” he said. “This is during ideal conditions and somewhat cool temperatures in May. Wheat that has germinated and has a very thin stand could be in worse shape than the wheat that never came up. This wheat is being subjected to the wind and freeze damage potential.”
Hanson said the timeliness of moisture plays a key role in wheat growth.
“We need some rain and snow soon,” he said. “When the air and soil temperatures start warming up, we will need plenty of moisture to kick start the wheat. We will also need to have moisture throughout the remainder of the growing season to finish the crop. This is due to the lack of moisture when we planted and since.”
The wheat crop grown in Southwest Kansas, as well as the whole state, has a huge economic impact, according to Hanson.
“Wheat prices are historically high,” he said. “We would like to see the wheat crop survive and thrive.”
Hanson remains optimistic, but he said near perfect growing conditions will need to exist to have potential for a crop.
“Farmers will have to decide if they are going to destroy the wheat crop and take a chance of planting another crop in the spring,” he said. “Options include grain sorghum, cotton, sunflowers, corn, etc.”
Hanson said all wheat grown in Kansas is classified as winter wheat, with a great majority of it being hard red winter wheat.
“Kansas grew 341 million bushels of wheat in 2009,” he said. “Seward County produced 1.545 million bushels in 2009. At current prices, this type of production for Seward County would result in more than 12 million dollars to our county wheat producers”
Wheat harvest typically takes place in early to mid-June and is complete (barring any weather delays) by the end of June. Hanson said he is not going to estimate the yields for the 2011 crop.
“It will be like playing with fire,” he said. “I do believe we could see a lot of 10-15 bushel wheat, and that is if we have decent growing conditions.”
Hanson emphasized a need for moisture for a good harvest, and that precipitation needs to arrive soon.
“Also, with the struggling plants, cooler weather will be much better than high temperatures,” he said.
Remaining optimistic, Hanson did say the cold temperatures this week are taking a major toll on the area’s wheat crop.
“With the dry conditions we have had and are still dealing with, it very well could be a disaster,” he said.