Drought Dings Wheat as Tour Moves West


by Emily Unglesbee, DTN Staff Reporter

COLBY, Kan. (DTN) — The toll of a four-year drought — short plants, thinning stands, blowing soil and dwindling yield potential — became increasingly visible as 2014 HRW wheat tour scouts moved west across central and north-central Kansas Tuesday.

Scouts stopped at 271 fields and produced an average yield for the tour's first day of 34.7 bushels per acre, well below 43.8 bpa last year and 53.4 bpa in 2012. Tour leaders estimated the crop is still six to eight weeks from harvest.

“This is about as low a yield as we've seen for some time,” tour veteran Dave Green said. “Last year, from Hutchison, Kan. to Lincoln, Neb., we had record crops. This year we're not quite getting those numbers in the central corridor to boost our yield estimates up.”

Representatives from Nebraska and Colorado joined the final meeting of day one of the tour and added their yield estimates. Royce Schaneman, executive director of the Nebraska wheat board estimated Nebraska wheat will yield in the low 40s. Darrell Hanavan, executive director of theColorado Wheat Administrative Committee, estimated Colorado wheat will average a yield of 32 bpa. The state planted 2.85 million acres this year and Hanavan said he expects 2.5 million to be harvested for a total production of 80 million bushels.

In Kansas, scouts spotted some winterkill throughout fields in the central and north-central counties of Kansas. Rollin Sears, Sygenta's head cereal breeder for North America, said several factors contributed to more winterkill than usual in these areas this spring.

“There was some late planting there and it was dry, so we had some poor root conditions and development in that area,” he told scouts Monday evening during a tour orientation. “And then right before Thanksgiving we got a really hard freeze — it got down to 12 degrees overnight — and it significantly weakened a lot of them. And the combination of that hard freeze and then the prolonged winter that we had — a colder winter than normal, I think — ended up causing quite a bit more winterkill than we typically see in that area.”

“We saw some winterkill,” tour organizer Ben Handcock told DTN. “I saw some abandoned fields with cattle grazing on three of them,” he said of his route, which moved through the north-central Kansas counties of Ottawa, Lincoln, Russell, Rooks, Graham, and Sheridan. Yet drought caused most of the poor yielding fields they saw, he added. “I stopped and talked to two farmers,” he said. “They had a little bit of winterkill, but said it's the drought that's hurting them the most.”

Reports of short wheat and plants still in the early stages of tillering poured in from scouts. In the most recent USDA crop progress report, Kansas wheat was 56{0a3336b3da8cf935de4f3eb78fe29508c4b8b5ebd27d01af2d815614325d533e} jointed and only 4{0a3336b3da8cf935de4f3eb78fe29508c4b8b5ebd27d01af2d815614325d533e} headed, well behind the five-year averages of 74{0a3336b3da8cf935de4f3eb78fe29508c4b8b5ebd27d01af2d815614325d533e} jointed and 17{0a3336b3da8cf935de4f3eb78fe29508c4b8b5ebd27d01af2d815614325d533e} headed.

“Our (wheat) crop is roughly two weeks late,” Sears estimated. “The crop is very similar in terms of its development compared to last year, which is considerably later than average.”

Handcock said one field in north-central Kansas was heading out at only 8 inches tall. “It's terribly short and it's been drought-stricken,” he said of much of the wheat on his north-central route.

As scouts moved west, drought became the most damaging factor in the wheat's condition. Tour veteran Dave Green's car calculated yields around 50 bpa as he drove through the central Kansas counties, but ended with an average yield of 40 bpa. “After Hoisington, (Kan.), things started to deteriorate,” Green said. “The soil is really dry out there.”

At a grain co-op near Dresden, Kan., locals painted a grim picture for scouts as they described dry subsoils, wind erosion, and cutworms chipping away at wheat's potential. The three and four-inch snows the area received over the winter were too light and fluffy to provide any substantial moisture, and dust storms are becoming more common in their western county of Decatur, they said.

USDA's crop condition report Monday estimated Kansas wheat was 13{0a3336b3da8cf935de4f3eb78fe29508c4b8b5ebd27d01af2d815614325d533e} very poor, 24{0a3336b3da8cf935de4f3eb78fe29508c4b8b5ebd27d01af2d815614325d533e} poor, 42{0a3336b3da8cf935de4f3eb78fe29508c4b8b5ebd27d01af2d815614325d533e} fair, 20{0a3336b3da8cf935de4f3eb78fe29508c4b8b5ebd27d01af2d815614325d533e} good, and only 1{0a3336b3da8cf935de4f3eb78fe29508c4b8b5ebd27d01af2d815614325d533e} excellent

Meanwhile, the week's unseasonably cool temperatures have inspired concerns that yet another freeze could damage the developing wheat. Wheat can sustain moderate to severe yield losses when temperatures drop below 24 degrees and the plant is jointing, and wheat in boot stages can see damage at temperatures 28 degrees and below.

DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Mike Palmerino told DTN Tuesday morning that the weather models indicated Kansas temperatures could drop into the mid- and upper-20s over the next two days, with the coldest temperatures expected Thursday morning.

Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle also have a chance of frost and light freezing with temperatures possibly dipping into the low and mid-30s on Wednesday and Thursday morning, Palmerino added.

However, in an updated weather forecast issued at noon on Tuesday, Palmerino stressed the uncertainty of the outlook. “Cold weather during midweek could cause some damage to jointing and heading wheat in the Southern Plains; however, the ability to develop temperatures cold enough to do damage is uncertain due to the potential for clouds and wind,” he noted.

Tomorrow scouts move into the southwest and southern regions of Kansas, with one route dipping down in the northern counties of Oklahoma.

You can use this map to follow the tour's routes, which stay the same each year in order to produce reliable data: http://www.dtn.com/…

*Editor's Note: DTN Staff Reporter Emily Unglesbee is tweeting live results from the tour. Follow her on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee


© Copyright 2014 DTN/The Progressive Farmer. All rights reserved.

Posted with DTN Permission by Haylie Shipp


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