Next Generation Farming

Wheat Limps to Finish Line

Harvest to come early this year in heat and high winds.

Temperatures over the past week have consistently been in the 90s or 100s, while winds of at least 20-30 mph have been a daily occurrence. And for the next week to 10 days, the forecast is calling for more of the same – right during the most critical period of development when the plant is filling grain in the head.

One agronomist who spoke last week at our county’s wheat variety tour says test cutting here may start as early as this weekend – a full 10 days ahead of normal. This invariably means light test weights are going to be an issue for farmers in addition to low yields. When the plant shuts down under extremely stressful growing conditions, head filling stops and results in smaller kernels.

Farmers with sub-standard wheat ultimately get penalized at the elevator. Wheat with a test weight below the 60-pound/bushel standard is subject to a discount schedule at our local elevator. If the wheat s below 50 pounds/bushel, it may even get rejected. According to the local agronomists, there’s going to be a lot of light test-weight wheat this harvest if the hot, dry and windy conditions persist.

This caps off an already frustrating year plagued by drought. Here in Lane County, Kan., farmers have already abandoned 20,000 acres out of 125,000 planted. If it wasn’t for today’s high wheat prices, it’s likely even more acres would have been destroyed earlier this spring and planted to corn or milo.

The best-looking wheat that’s going to make it to the finish line in this disastrous year was planted early, which goes against everything we’ve learned to do in “normal” years. The benefits of planting later in the fall included decreased risk of both the wheat streak mosaic virus and hessian fly infestations.

But this year, that tack came with a big penalty simply because it never rained. If you planted late, the fall germination was low and you had a weak stand. Those who planted early, however, took advantage of what moisture they had and greatly increased their chances of getting a stand ahead of winter dormancy.

The guys who really were in trouble were those who farmed no-till. The hard soils that come with chem-fallowed fields made it impossible for planters to reach deep enough through the soil to where the moisture was. Those seeds eventually sprouted, but not until the spring after it finally rained. Yield potential at that point, however, falls nearly to zero.

Field reports from Oklahoma and Texas where the drought has been even worse aren’t encouraging, either. According to Chad Brink of Brink Farms Custom Harvesting who stopped by our farm Wednesday to survey the wheat in the area, there simply isn’t much wheat to harvest this year. The best field he cut in Oklahoma was 25 bushels/acre. Some fields were as low as 8 bushels/acre.

(By the way, if you need of a top-notch harvest crew this year, Chad’s as good as they come. Call him at 218-244-6538. Chad, you can send me a check for making a plug for you!)

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