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Smaller winter wheat crop expected, scounting for crop diseases imperative

Despite temperatures heating up in March, and spring showing up relatively on time, planting progress is behind schedule, according to farmers and analysts that reported to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Flaky weather patterns that began in April, with rain and cooler temperatures, has planting progress moving at a snail's pace in some areas. In addition, corn and small grain crop plantings, typically done in mid-April, are behind, and this year's winter wheat crop is expected to be historically low.

Last year's high wheat yield and low wheat prices have some growers looking at other crops, such as soybeans and corn, for the year. "I drove across the southern tier of (Kansas) counties, and saw a lot of wheat being grazed out. Crops being bailed for hay. And some being sprayed, terminating the crop, which are all indications that farmers may be changing crops," said Romulo Lollato, Kansas State University Extension forage specialist.

Total 2017/18 seedings of winter, other spring, and durum wheat for the 2017/18 marketing year, were reported in the NASS Prospective Plantings at just 46.1 million acres, which is 4.1 million acres smaller than the previous year's plantings. Winter wheat seedings are expected to be 3.4 million acres smaller than for the current marketing year, with durum and other spring planted area down 400,000 and 297,000 acres, respectively.

“Comparing to the same time last year, we are comparible to slightly better — at least for this very same moment in time.”

Overall spring planting is at 13 percent complete, as of April 16, according to NASS. The five-year average is 21 percent, and last year at this time, farmers were at 25 percent. The latest report did show progress, with overall wheat conditions at 54 percent good to excellent, up one point from previous report, and the poor to very poor remained unchanged at 13 percent.

But overall, the crop conditions are not too bad, Lollato said, at least as far as central Kansas goes.

"The potential is there, but many things can go wrong," Lollato added. "Comparing to the same time last year, we are comparible to slightly better — at least for this very same moment in time."

DISEASE PRESSURE

While drought conditions that have plagued Midwest farmers have improved slightly, drought has still taken its toll on some of the crops, and extension specialists say it's important to be on the lookout for crop diseases.

"If we've had any problems showing up, it's with disease," Lollato said. "We are also seeing some nitrogen deficiency."

"The rust diseases are some of the most important diseases in the state and annually cause more yield loss than most other diseases of wheat," says Erick DeWolf, Extension plant pathologist, at Kansas State University.

DeWolf said early outbreaks that occur in Texas and Oklahoma can be an indicator of Kansas problems. "This year, the early reports from Texas indicate that stripe rust levels are low in most areas and Oklahoma has yet to report stripe rust in 2017. This suggests that the risk of stripe rust in Kansas is much lower than in 2015 or 2016."

Leaf rust has been a problem in Texas, but dry conditions have kept the disease from spreading, according to DeWolf, but the crop is not in the clear yet.

"There are no reports of leaf rust to date in Kansas for the 2017 season. We have a lot of acres planted to varieties that are susceptible to leaf rust (T158, TAM111, TAM112, WB4458). We will need to watch for signs of leaf rust as we approach flag leaf emergence in Kansas during April."

Stripe rust has already been identified in a winter wheat fields in the northern Panhandle of Nebraska, according to Robert M. Harveson, Extension plant pathologist at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff. Powdery mildew and stripe rust also have been identified in some Kansas wheat fields, according to NASS reports.

While the Nebraska infections occurred on only a few leaves of the plants and pustules were very small and difficult to see. Harveson said it is important to be aware of the potential problems.

The field from which the plants originated was from Sheridan County north of Rushville, which strongly implies that the pathogen overwintered at this location from a crop planted in fall 2016. This also suggests that the pathogen survived over the winter in other fields as well, which will potentially result in additional early infections and economic losses.

"This report is not anything to be panicked about now, but is just an alert," according to Harveson. "We are not recommending spraying fungicides at this point, but it would be a good idea to survey and closely monitor fields right now to determine further incidence and distribution of the disease."

Wheat streak mosaic and root rot are also on the wheat scouts' radars.

"The KSU diagnostic lab was receiving samples of wheat with wheat streak mosaic already in the fall, which is an early indication that this may be an above-average year for this disease. We continue to receive samples with symptoms of wheat streak mosaic this spring and reports of above-normal levels of the disease in some areas of west central Kansas," DeWolf said. "Several samples of wheat from western Kansas have also been infected with common root rot."

KANSAS

Lollato said the conditions across Kansas central counties are in good shape, and the state, for the most part, is off to a decent crop yield, but growth in the far west fields is a little more sporadic, because of little to no moisture.

NASS reports concur that rainfall in central and eastern Kansas is greening pastures and helping winter wheat, but is delaying corn planting. Most western counties in Kansas remain dry. NASS rated the state's winter wheat crop as 6 percent excellent, 45 percent good and 33 percent fair. About 16 percent is in poor to very poor condition. About 9 percent of the wheat has now headed. Winter wheat jointed was 65 percent, behind 75 percent last year, but ahead of the five-year average of 58. Headed was 9 percent, ahead of 3 percent last year and near the 6 percent average.

Kansas farmers have planted just 9 percent of their corn crop. That is well behind the 32 percent that was in the ground by this time a year ago. It is also behind the 18 percent average.

For the week ending April 16, 2017, temperatures in Kansas were 6 to 10 degrees above normal, according to NASS. Central and eastern counties continued to receive rainfall, while most western counties remained dry. The additional rainfall aided pasture and wheat development, but continued to delay corn planting in many areas. Topsoil moisture rated 4 percent very short, 13 short, 70 adequate, and 13 surplus. Subsoil moisture rated 5 percent very short, 20 short, 70 adequate and 5 surplus.

NEBRASKA

For the week ending April 16, Nebraska temperatures averaged 4 to 6 degrees above normal, according to NASS reports. Rainfall of an inch or more was limited to portions of the eastern half of the state. Dry soil moisture conditions continued in southwestern Nebraska. The first fields of corn were planted, however, fieldwork in most areas was limited to spring tillage and fertilizer application. Topsoil moisture supplies rated 5 percent very short, 18 short, 74 adequate, and 3 surplus. Subsoil moisture supplies rated 7 percent very short, 23 short, 68 adequate and 2 surplus.

Winter wheat condition rated 1 percent very poor, 8 poor, 38 fair, 46 good and 7 excellent. Winter wheat jointed was 7 percent, behind 17 last year and 13 average. Corn planted was 3 percent, near 6 last year, and equal to the five-year average. Oats planted was 70 percent, near 68 last year and 66 average. Oats emerged was 26 percent, ahead of 20 last year, and near 22 average.

COLORADO

In Colorado, the winter wheat crop is rated 23 percent poor to very poor, 36 percent fair, 33 percent good and 8 percent excellent.

Spring fieldwork advanced mid-April, with drier conditions throughout the state, according to the Mountain Region Field Office of NASS. Counties where temperatures were warmer with high winds saw a decline in soil moisture. Reporters noted pasture and crop conditions in areas that received needed moisture earlier in the month continue to respond positively.

However, warm and dry conditions hasten the need for more precipitation soon. Planting is well underway for several crops, with calving and lambing progressing well for livestock producers. As of April 17, snowpack in Colorado was at 96 percent measured as percent of median snowfall. The Southwest and San Luis Valley were 113 and 104 percent, respectively. ❖

— Eatherton is a freelance writer from Beaulah, Wyo. When she's not writing, she's riding her horse or playing with her grandson. She can be reached at teatherton@msn.com.