Wheat and More ... or Less
Even the old timers say they’ve rarely seen it this dry.
But one thing for sure, the drier it is, the higher the market goes. Some market
analysts are already talking $10 and $12 wheat.
Larry Hixson from Wakeeney KS remembers it being this
dry before—back in ’55 and ’56. “We didn’t even plant wheat that year. This
year, though, we had a good rain in September and as a result, we have good
Here on our farm in Lane and Scott counties, I wish we
had been as fortunate. We did get most of our wheat up but I’d say 80% would
rate fair to poor. In addition, while we have made some progress with root
development, we clearly have substantial risk of winterkill.
Statewide, Kansas Ag Statistics rates the ’11 crop as
only 36% good to excellent. This time last year it was 72%.
Too, we didn’t plant a lot of wheat here in Kansas. At
8.8 million acres seeded, this is the second lowest since l957 when 7.2 million
acres were planted.
Chad Kriegshauser in Hereford TX says wheat down there
looks like wheat here in the High Plains of Kansas. “However, we may have had some winterkill
already because when our temperatures dropped below zero, we had no snow
cover—and the ground was extremely dry. For sure we’ve lost all of our surface
leaves,” he says.
Burl Scherler in Sheridan Lake Co says while they have
good stands, he, too, is worried about winterkill. “Because of dry soils, our
secondary roots never did develop. That
sets us up for severe winterkill. And I have seen that happen several times in
Scherler is also wondering how many farmers will
topdress with nitrogen or cut rates because of dry soils and high fertilizer
costs. “That could also add to low
yields even if we do get rain.”
Colorado State University wheat breeder Scott Haley says
southeast Colorado is in a little better shape because of mid-September rains.
“That was clearly a lifesaver. Without those rains, there would be no wheat down
there. But regardless, what wheat is there certainly needs a
With conditions as bad as they are, it’s safe to predict
lower yields and higher abandonment. Even if it were to start raining right now,
a lot of damage has already occurred. There are untold thousands of acres where
the wheat hasn’t even come up yet or where we have thin and spotty stands and
poor root development.
So what does all this mean? Years ago I remember a
conversation with a marketing specialist from Iowa State University. He told me
this: “Vance, there’s a reason why wheat goes to $10. You ain’t got any.”
And that may be exactly what’s getting ready to
happen. Dan Basse with AgResource in
Chicago says the world desperately needs Kansas wheat. “We cannot stand sub-40
bushel per acre yields in Kansas or a sharp rise in abandonment.
“Our crop scouts looked at Kansas wheat in late December
and say it’s the worst looking Kansas crop since ’87-’88.”
That’s comforting. Our wheat yields that year were only
33 bushels per acre. And it gets worse. We only had 11.2 inches of precip—for
the entire year. Knowing that, I’m sure getting excited about planting
Basse goes on to say that we can only hope for rain or
snow before Valentines’ Day. “But between you and me, I’ve just got a real bad
feeling about this year. Our climate scientist is very worried about a drought
in your neck of the woods.
“With weather problems in Russia, China, Australia and
even North Africa, the world wheat market could get very spicy, very fast as
crops break dormancy. Let’s just hope it rains around the world—otherwise wheat
prices are going back to “08 levels.” Basse concludes.
Vance Ehmke and his wife, Louise, grow certified seed wheat in Lane County, Kansas.