Drought continues to plague Kansas – winter wheat feeling the hit

Agriculture

DODGE CITY, Kan. (KSNW) – Kansas is the nation’s largest wheat producing state. Farm Bureau reports the state accounts for nearly 20% of all wheat produced in the United States.

As severe drought stretches across the region, wheat farmers are now looking to the sky and wondering what the coming months will bring for their crop.

Winter wheat is typically planted in late August to early and mid-September. The months following are vital for the plant’s growth. 

But without rain it doesn’t look good for the winter wheat crop right now.

“It’s so powdery fine, there’s nothing for this plant to bite to or to get moisture,” said Joe Vogel, southwest Kansas farmer. 

In fields where wheat should be four inches tall, there’s nothing.

“Because of the lack of rain, there are just areas in the field that are okay, that came up with it, and there’s areas that it hasn’t even sprouted yet,” said Vogel.

Vogel says if the rain doesn’t come soon, the cold weather could lead to major losses and a drop in bushels per acre next harvest.

“If we get a hard freeze and this wheat is not rooted down to get any moisture, we’re looking at winter kill on a lot of the crops,” he said. “It has damaged the crop on what we will produce next year, definitely.”

Right now, wheat farmers are keeping an eye on the forecast, hoping for rain that could save their crop. 

For agronomists, they say the spotty wheat is a widespread issue.

“Rain is the limiting factor as of today,” said Greg Ruehle, President and CEO of ServiTech.

While some plants have sprouted and emerged, others haven’t germinated. This can lead to long-term issues for the crop.

The varying growth stages in the fall can impact winter survival, maturity, crop competitiveness, yield potential, and risk of disease.

“Wheat’s a resilient crop. It’s a crop that’s often referred to as having multiple lives, and we’re gonna use a couple of them this fall while we wait on rain showers to come,” said Ruehle.

Although the lack of precipitation is a concern, Ruehle says there’s still time to catch a rain.

“I’m less concerned now. If it’s the 21st of November, I’m more concerned if we haven’t received moisture because we may not see the evening of the crop we need as it prepares itself for dormancy,” said Ruehle.

But the sooner rain does come, the better.

“The days are getting shorter which means our growing degree units are fewer each day. The sooner we can get rain, the more advantage the crop can take of that, get some fall growth in place, and position it well for the spring,” said Ruehle, “The drought map is not lying. We need some rain in this part of the world.”

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