Joe Kejr has decided to put worry on hold for the holidays, relish the beautifully thick stand of wheat in some of his fields during a long and warm fall and rejoice others that were elevated solely by moisture that came just in time.
The Brookville-area farmer understands that it’s a farmer’s nature to show concern, even when it’s not yet warranted.
“It’s too early to lose any sleep about what the yield might do,” Kejr said. “It’s fun to see these nice green fields next to just-harvested fields.”
But there is no consensus of jubilation about portions of the farm landscape that have basked in near-perfect conditions. More-than-adequate moisture and a fall season that lingered well past the average first killing frost date of mid-October left some fields lush.
“In central Saline County, our wheat looks really, really good,” said Clayton Short, a farmer near Assaria.
Some suggest that wheat this time of year can be too good.
“I don’t want it to be any bigger. We’ve had enough rain to support this growth, but is it utilizing nutrients we’d rather it would save until spring?” Short said.
‘Wheat looks good’
Kejr is pleased that the ample waves of green have a lot of tillers (plant stems that will produce grain heads), and if conditions remain optimal, they will translate into more grain at harvest.
Other farmers have a less flowery outlook. Duane Flaherty’s fields in western Saline County were dry until receiving from 0.8 to 1.2 inches of rain Nov. 16. Instead of utterly fantastic, he said, “The wheat looks good going into winter.”
For a change, some extremes are being reported from western Kansas areas that were gifted with a wet fall.
“The wheat is humongous,” proclaimed Vance Ehmke, a farmer in Lane County.
“We had a long fall growing season. The wheat had adequate moisture, we had plenty of heat units and it just kept growing and growing,” he said. “Some of the wheat is the thickest, heaviest and lushest in my 40 years of farming.”
Some concerned about crop
In a recent column that he writes, “Wheat and More … or Less,” Ehmke, who is also a certified seed grower and dealer, wrote a piece this month titled, “Is the Wheat Too Big?”
“I’ve had a number of phone calls from people all over western Kansas, seed customers, expressing concerns about this real big wheat,” he said.
Some have reported seeing wheat that has jointed, which is something that normally occurs in the spring after the plant has vernalized over the winter. In at least one case, he said, the wheat was planted in early September. The normal planting period is late September through early October.
“If there is wheat out there that has vernalized and is jointed, I think that has upped the ante,” Ehmke said. “I have never in my life seen what’s going on out there. It’s either really good or really bad.”
Vernalization is the cold temperature requirement that all winter wheat has to go through to get from vegetative growth to reproductive growth so it can produce grain, said Tom Maxwell, agricultural Extension agent for Saline and Ottawa counties.
“If that’s occurring, that wheat’s in trouble,” he said. “In my 35 years, I’ve never seen wheat joint in the fall. I’m a skeptic. I’d have to have proof.”
Could be susceptible to bugs, virus
Jointing or not, there are issues with big wheat.
Ehmke pointed to the fall of 2014, when there was good growth but little or no transition from fall to winter.
“We went from 75 degrees to single digits in a 12-hour period,” he said. The result was significant winter kill, resulting in a yield last summer that was “somewhat below long-term average.”
More growth makes the wheat more susceptible to maladies, such as wheat streak mosaic virus or infestations of green bugs, Ehmke said.
Maxwell said it also could be affected by barley yellow dwarf virus or the Hessian fly.
During his last visit to the fields, Ehmke noticed some leaf rust under the heavy canopy of vegetation, but he said that it usually “burns off over the winter.”
Big wheat, big yield?
On the upside, Ehmke writes that big wheat, combined with continued wet weather, could produce “a gold mine” on the farm.
Kejr and Short acknowledged the big wheat’s propensity to use nutrients and moisture now instead of when it might be better utilized next spring, when the crop emerges from dormancy.
“Getting it good and tillered is a good thing,” Kejr said.
Conditions have slowly turned back to normal, with cold overnight lows.
“That’s gonna slow this up a lot. If we were into mid-December and had this much growth, I would be concerned,” Short said. “Fall stand establishment translates into higher yields next year. We have the table set. There’s still plenty that can go wrong. It’s too early.”
A balancing act
Early planting is great if you’re going to control growth by grazing cattle, Maxwell said, but otherwise, the ideal planting time in north-central Kansas is Oct. 5 to 10.
“We’ve got guys that will plant in September, but if it gets too big, that could be detrimental,” he said.
High tiller numbers might be good if conditions remain right. The plant will need adequate moisture and nutrients in the spring to maintain that yield potential, he said.
“Ideally, going into dormancy, three to five tillers is sufficient,” Maxwell said. “We’ve had years where there were 10 to 12 tillers. That winter foliage is probably going to die back. We need adequate tillers, but we don’t need an excess. It’s kind of a balancing act.”
Kejr looks at wheat production this way: “It starts out with the potential of 100 bushel, and then everything comes along and knocks off some of the yield potential; too much rain, not enough rain, some freeze damage. The list can go on and on.”
(Source – http://www.salina.com/news/big-wheat-could-be-really-good-or-really-bad/article_6078676d-c4df-597b-96ea-f1077c13995b.html)