The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

November 3, 2012

Wheat struggles without rain

Staff and wire reports
Enid News & Eagle and Farm Talk / CNHI News Service

— Rain falling in Kansas recently improved the status of the 2013 wheat crop, but much more precipitation is needed to sustain the wheat crop through the winter months.

Throughout Kansas, the rain was hit-and-miss. Goodland received no precipitation, but Colby received .41 of an inch. Liberal had .18 of an inch, but Ulysses had 1.45 inches. The storm moved from southwest to northeast, dropping a half-inch of rain in Manhattan, nearly an inch in Salina and more than 2 inches in southeast Kansas.

In Oklahoma, a lack of rain also is causing problems for the wheat crop.

Roger Don Gribble, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service northwest area agronomist, said the wheat crop is “very drought stressed.”

Across the state, he said, 86 percent of the crop has been planted and 59 percent of it has emerged. In northwest Oklahoma, he said, closer to 50 percent of the crop has emerged.

What’s growing, though, is struggling due to lack of moisture, he said.

The best wheat — growth-wise and developmentally — in the area is in Kingfisher County, Gribble said, but it is spotty. The worst conditions stretch from Alva across the northern tier of counties to Blackwell.

“In the Enid area, it’s a fair stand, but it’s just sitting there,” Gribble said. “It’s not growing.”

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, topsoil moisture conditions are deteriorating in the state. Topsoil moisture is short or very short in 69 percent of the state, with 31 percent rated adequate.

Subsoil moisture conditions are even worse, according to NASS. Subsoil moisture is short or very short in 85 percent of the state and adequate in just 15 percent.

The lack of rain is reaching a critical point for farmers who haven’t yet planted their wheat, Gribble said. Farmers in some areas are facing a Nov. 15 deadline, and others a Nov. 30 deadline, to get wheat planted to meet a crop insurance deadline.

And, the area needs rain in order for those farmers to plant, Gribble said.

In Kansas, farmers are wrapping up winter wheat planting, with about 90 percent complete, according to the Crop Progress Report, issued by Kansas Agricultural Statistics on Oct. 15. The crop’s emergence has been slowed due to dry soil conditions, and just 42 percent of the wheat is in good to excellent condition at this early stage.

Scott Van Allen, Kansas Wheat commissioner from Conway Springs, said he received an inch of rain shortly after finishing wheat planting. Before the rain, just about 60 percent of his newly planted wheat had emerged; the rest should come up now that it has rained.

Van Allen, who farms in Sumner County, said wheat acreage in south central Kansas likely will increase due to the drought’s impact on fall crops. Much of the area’s corn was not harvested; sorghum yields also were compromised by drought.

Throughout Kansas, wheat acres could be up as much as 7 percent, said Daryl Strouts, executive director of Kansas Wheat Alliance.

“In areas of central Kansas, some farmers have gotten caught two years in a row with corn failing on some marginal land. I expect these farmers to shift back to wheat either as part of a crop rotation or permanently,” Strouts said.

In 2011-12, farmers planted about five million acres of wheat in central Kansas; as many as 5.5 million acres could be planted this fall. Although eastern Kansas does not produce a lot of wheat compared to the rest of the state, wheat plantings could increase from 700,000 acres planted a year ago to nearly 800,000 acres this year, he said.

“Eastern Kansas wheat production has doubled in the last five years, and it will be way up again,” he said.

Western Kansas is the wildcard. Southwest Kansas farmers have been plagued by drought for several years in a row and soil moisture conditions still are poor. However, wheat is about the only logical option for those farmers, as irrigation allocations — which are necessary for corn production — have largely been exhausted.

“I expect farmers to plant at least as much wheat as they did last year, if not a little more,” Strout said.

Meanwhile, northwest Kansas farmers are expected to plant about the same number of acres as last year, said Justin Gilpin, Kansas Wheat chief executive officer.

“At this point, there is just not enough sub-soil moisture to carry the crop to the 2013 harvest,” Gilpin said. “Timely rains are going to be critical in order for this crop to have a chance at success.”

Associate Editor Kevin Hassler and Farm Talk, of Parsons, Kan., contributed to this story.