Wheat and More….or less
It may have rained in central Kansas, but out here in
the High Plains, we’re still praying. While we do have some fields that came up
fairly well, there’s a heck of a lot of wheat seed still waiting in the ground
for germinating moisture.
And to make matters worse, a lot of the wheat that has
come up has a very poorly developed root system.
Jim Shroyer, Kansas State University Extension wheat
specialist, just left the farm after a quick tour of wheat fields here in Lane
County. He says without a doubt, much of the wheat in the western third of the
state badly needs rain.
Here on our farm, I’d say 80% of what we planted would
rate fair to poor. We have very little wheat in the good category.
In addition to the poor stands, Shroyer says he’s
worried by the lack of crown root development. “It’s not the end of the world,
but we definitely need some rain to get the crown roots better established
before we get into really cold weather.”
He says in many cases, the crown roots may be only an
eighth of an inch long. After germinating, the plant develops seminal roots from
the wheat seed. These minor roots help get the plant established until the main
root system takes over. These roots
develop from the crown which will be set about 1 or 2 inches above the seed. But
because of dry soils, the crown roots have hardly any development.
That makes it very difficult for the plant to take in
nutrients like nitrogen. Thus, in many cases, the plant may look yellow, for
But far more serious is the threat of winterkill.
Moisture in the soil helps insulate the plants. But if soils stay dry, the cold
temperatures can penetrate further into the ground. And if those temperatures
get down to l0 or l2 degrees, we can have winterkill. Too, if the soil stays
dry, the roots won’t develop—and that’ll make the plant even more
vulnerable. With moist soils, the soil
temperature may drop only to the low to mid 20s.
Shroyer says with just the seminal root system, you’ll
simply have a very poor crop—or nothing at all.
He says, too, that if wheat seeds germinate now and
emerge in January, you’re looking at a half crop at best. However, if April and
May turn out cool with adequate moisture, we could see yields as high as 50
bushels per acre with spring-emerged wheat. “That’s the best case, though.
Instead I’d be looking for yields in the upper teens to twenties. In short, the
western Kansas farmers need to keep on praying for rain,” he
Vance Ehmke is a farmer in Lane County who has a certified seed wheat business.