The forecast for wheat yields on Kansas farms like Jim Dooley’s, is mostly positive, with a slight chance of isolated signs of disease.
Dooley, a fourth-generation farmer in Jewell, Kan., who produces wheat, grain sorghum and soybeans, gleaned a field of knowledge at a June 4 Wheat Variety Plot Tour in Belleville, Kan.
“It was useful,” Dooley said. “I’m mainly here for canola and wheat production. Rain-wise, our farm is doing really well. The wheat looks good, and soybeans are up and growing.”
The weather pattern, which shifted and has been bringing more frontal systems and moisture into the Plains region this spring and past winter, is playing a pivotal role in boosting yield predictions and farmers’ moods.
“Because of our more timely rains and cooler weather, it’s good for wheat yields, so we should have a pretty decent crop,” said Gary Pierzynski; head of the Department of Agronomy at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan. He also oversees all the Kansas State University Experiment Fields statewide. “We’re expecting 275 million to 300 million bushels of wheat statewide in Kansas, which is a little bit off from what we can produce in a really good year. But not as bad as what people feared, given the moisture constrains we had earlier.
The condition of the wheat varies in different parts of Kansas.
“In the central part of the state where a lot of the wheat is produced, we’ve been picking up some pretty good rains so the wheat is looking pretty good. Out west, they have some moisture constraints that are holding it back, so the crop out there won’t be as good as it could be.”
When comparing those figures with last year, Pierzynski said the 2012 crop was about 25 percent less than this year’s estimate.
The information is based on the recent Wheat Tour conducted by several groups, including the Kansas Wheat Commission, Kansas Association of Wheat Growers and K-State.
Dooley and three dozen other farmers and agronomy experts converged at the Wheat Plot Tour in Belleville.
One of the first concerns on farmers’ minds, was learning if there are any early signs of plant disease.
“There is some wheat streak mosaic,” relayed John Forshee, director of the Kansas State University Research and Extension’s River Valley District, which coordinated the five Wheat Plot Tours, during the first week of June.
Another speaker at the plot tour concurred, noting there are several diseases beginning to show up, although all are below average, compared to last year.
“Stripe rust was a major concern last year, but it is relatively minor this year,” said Erick DeWolf, plant pathologist with Kansas State University. “There’s also some leaf rust.
“And yes, while the wheat streak mosaic was a major problem last year, there is some improvement this year, although it’s still a problem for producers,” added DeWolf.
Farmers on the tour were provided with a bountiful update on the results of planting cover crops.
“When we look at the 2012-2013 surface soil water and compare this spring to last year, cover crops did not deplete soil moisture,” said Pierzynski. “So, there was no significant difference on soil moisture when using cover crops.”
Another agronomy professor from K-State echoed Pierzynski’s sentiments.
“This is good news from a soil water standpoint,” said Randall Nelson, who also oversees the North Central Kansas Experiment Fields. “We didn’t see any problem putting a cover crop in wheat stubble — in front of a summer row crop; based on our study that we conducted on cover crops since 2011.”
The cover crop effects on soil water and spring crop yields in wheat-based systems were based on a rotation of wheat-corn/sorghum-soybean-wheat, with three basic treatments:
A) Wheat/cover crop/corn-soybean/wheat
B) Wheat/double-crop soybean/corn/soybean/wheat
The two cover crop planting dates were:
• Directly following wheat harvest, using separate trials of double-crop soybeans, Sunn hemp (legume,) and sorghum-sudan, and
• Late summer, transitioning from chickling vetch in 2011, which is a legume, and then changed to put in winter peas in 2012, as well as a tillage radish, which experts say provides a nice seed bed, as well as being effective in breaking up a hard pan.
There was a word of caution about double-cropping beans.
“Beans naturally use up more water, and that’s something to think about, regarding how a double crop bean would affect your other plants,” said Nelson.
Learning how cover crops add value was the subject of another agronomy expert’s presentation.
“In 2009, we were encouraged that we could grow shoulder-high sun hemp, as well as cow peas and German millet cover crops in 55 days,” shared Gary Cramer, K-State assistant professor of agronomy, who oversees the K-State Experiment Station in Hutchinson, Kan. “We found that even though our first crop following the cover, did not increase in yield, that the next crop did.”
Specifically, Cramer told the crowd, that cover crops were able to store more moisture.
He’s continuing his work with more mixes.
“We’re getting calls for seven to 12 different mix species,” Cramer said.
While Cramer acknowledged that cover crops don’t replace cash crops, he suggested farmers could think about supplementing.
“If you’re not grazing cover crops or harvesting them for grain, you’re not going to make that extra money in the short term,” Cramer said. “We need to put a value on soil characteristics that we’re altering with cover crops.
“Get on your hands and knees and find out what’s there. Decide your objective and plan from there. If you have a soil compaction problem, then a crop like tillage radishes would help break that up.”
Canola in the mix
A crop considered the proverbial new kid on the block in the Wheat Plot tour is canola.
Introducing its benefits, another K-State agronomy specialist announced the new products on the market.
“Probably the most exciting thing we have going, is the introduction of Round-up Ready canola, which will be available in 2014,” said Mike Stamm, K-State professor and canola breeder.
After growing canola for seven years, Stamm said they tested it just last year in Belleville, and he highly praised the results.
“We have two excellent canola plots up here,” Stamm said. “We’re also looking at developing parent lines for hybrid production. Most other regions of the world that are growing canola, are growing hybrid canola, and it’s time for us to get involved in developing parent lines of canola here, in the future.”
A national trial was planted at the experiment station west of Belleville last year, and Stamm told the crowd, it’s actually one of the highest yielding variety trials in the U.S.
“It was a shock to us that we had such a high yield, and we attribute it to cooler nighttime temps and timely rains,” he said. “Typically, a yield is highly correlated to height, and the crop was densely podded. If you go out now and look, it’s very similar to last year.
“Although 40 bushels an acre was the state average, Belleville averaged 80. If we can repeat that, we might be growing more canola in the central part of the state. We’ll know more when we get the combine out.”
Some of the companies testing in the canola trial include Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta, and others like Rubisco and Croplan, as well as DL Seed, which is based in Canada.
Stamm acknowledged that there are many questions about harvesting and marketing this crop, and urged farmers interested in growing canola, to conduct further research.
Up the Tweeting
Finally, since recently stepping up their presence in social media, K-State professors introduced its Twitter account: KStateAgron. Pierzynski said his department has been tweeting just six weeks now, and it’s been an effective communication tool.
“It’s another way to get our information out to people who need it, and it’s going well,” Pierzynski told The Fence Post.
As the Wheat Plot presentation concluded, farmer Dooley delivered his own forecast for his farm.
“Now I’ll look more favorably on cover crops. I’m a K-State extension supporter and I learn what I can,” said Dooley.
As thunder rumbled and rain began to fall, Dooley said good-naturedly, “I just need to get my planting finished.” ❖