Wheat Variety Plot Tour: Examining wheat varieties, canola potential on the Plains

Story & Photos Amy G. Hadachek | Cuba, Kan.
Kansas State University Research and Extension associate Wendy Johnson addresses the crowd of farmers and others at the Wheat Variety Plot Tour. New this year, Johnson introduced the program, a multi-state program in Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma offered free to anyone who would like to create an account and sign up to get access to wheat sampling and view real-time crop risk maps.

With plenty of eyes on Kansas’ waving wheat, farmers, like fifth-generation Kansas farmer Jerry Strnad, gathered at the Wheat Variety Plot Tour in north central Kansas early on June 4 to learn the latest information about potential yields and any disease resistance of current and new varieties, with the goal of growing new knowledge for next season.

As he strolled out to the North Central Kansas Experiment Field just west of Belleville, Kan., Strnad, of rural eastern Republic County near Munden, told The Fence Post he appreciated seeing and hearing the updates on each wheat variety, then relayed his perspective, as a farmer.

“I’m pretty realistic … I really thought the wheat crop was poor, until the last two weeks, when we finally got some decent rain. Some people who expect 40-50 bushels … might be disappointed. Of course, we’re not done yet, and after the last two weeks, I anticipate it’s not going to be so bad.”

Two crop experts from Kansas State University — Stewart “Stu” Duncan, a northeast area crops and soil specialist, and Erick De Wolf, an Extension plant pathologist — had plenty to say about the two dozen wheat varieties planted side-by-side.

“We don’t know if the crop will be as good as it’s been in past years, but things look better than I expected, and better than they have a right to at this point,” observed Duncan. “I saw poor wheat planted early and poor wheat planted late, and we’re probably not going to harvest 60-70 bushels of wheat this year,” Duncan told the crowd of three dozen farmers gathered at the plot tour.

“There are a lot of good choices, and the key issues are maturity, the height of the wheat, and individual disease reactions,” noted De Wolf.

A favorite of both De Wolf and Duncan is Everest.

“Historically, Everest is a top performer in this area,” De Wolf told the farmers. “Everest is a variety from KSU that was released in 2009. The variety has a good resistance to many of the most common diseases in the state including leaf rust, barley yellow dwarf, head scab and powdery mildew. The variety is susceptible to tan spot and stripe rust,” said De Wolf, noting, “The susceptibility to tan spot is most important when wheat is planted back into wheat residue.”

Both crop experts praised Everest — as a consistent, high-yielding variety in recent years.

Other wheat varieties earning high praise from De Wolf include:

• Armour, variety from WestBred that is a contemporary of Everest. Like Everest, Armour has a pedigree coming from the Pioneer genetics that was given to the universities back in the 1990s. Armour is a good yielding variety but is vulnerable to a few diseases. Armour is susceptible to leaf rust, stripe rust, and barley yellow dwarf. Armour is shorter than other wheat varieties but has good straw strength.

• WB-Cedar, a recent release from Westbred with an excellent yield potential. WB Cedar is an early maturing variety and performed exceptionally well in 2012; a year that favored early maturing varieties. Cedar is moderately resistant to stripe rust but is moderate susceptible to leaf rust and barley yellow dwarf. Like Armour, the WB Cedar has good straw strength but can be short in some dry years.

• Fuller and PostRock are two older varieties that farmers might still keep in their line-up. These varieties have Jagger in their pedigree and share many attributes with this highly successful wheat variety. In recent years, these varieties have often be average or slightly above average because they are susceptible to many of the most common diseases such as leaf rust, stripe rust, powdery mildew, barley yellow dwarf. The straw strength of PostRock is better than that of Fuller.

Also, a new variety from KSU is 1863.

“1863 is worth looking at this year. The variety has a pedigree that includes a sister line to Overley, Karl 92 and the AgriPro variety Cutter. This variety should be adapted for north central Kansas and south central Nebraska. The variety has some weaknesses in its disease package and should be considered susceptible to leaf rust and powdery mildew, but is intermediate to tan spot and stripe rust,” De Wolf told The Fence Post. He notes the straw strength on this variety is acceptable, but the variety can lodge in fields with high fertility. “The performance of 1863 was mixed in 2013 but we are hopeful its performance this year will be better,” added De Wolf.

“Sy-Wolf is also an interesting variety that farmers might want to keep an eye on,” he added. “SY-Wolf is from AgriPro and has good yield potential. The variety has some of the best available resistance to tan spot, which may make it a good fit in crop rotations where wheat is planted back into wheat residue in a no-till production system.”

He noted Sy-Wolf is resistant to leaf rust and has an intermediate reaction to stripe rust and barley yellow dwarf.

Duncan said another favorite of his is T-158.

“It’s the most popular of the old Trio, now Limagrain Cereal Seeds varieties,” shared Duncan.

The morning Wheat Plot Tour was just the beginning of a day that featured four full tours across north central Kansas. It was also part of a four-county tour of 10 different plots.

“This is a great opportunity to see all the varieties of wheat crops,” noted Kim Larson, crop production specialist with Kansas State University’s River Valley Extension District, which hosted the tours. “Be sure to kill your volunteer wheat, because it prevents development of Wheat Streak Mosaic disease.”

Local chemical company specialist Bruce Ball, owner of Rural Gas in Belleville, Kan., who provides herbicide, pesticide and other products to producers across the region, was intrigued to see the wheat plots.

“There are a lot of questions in growers’ minds. I think it’ll vary from field to field, and the variety of wheat,” said Ball, who provides inputs to help crops grow up to their potential.

New at the Wheat Tour this year was a unique technology product for growers, called, which pulls data from all the KSU Research and Extension wheat plots and offers it in one place.

“We’ve been working on this for a couple of years, and we’re just introducing it this year,” said Wendy Johnson, Extension associate and MyFields coordinator at KSU’s Department of Entomology.

It’s a multi-state project in Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas.

“Anyone can create a free account, so you can customize and register your fields. Through you can get access to sampling and see real-time crop risk maps,” Johnson told The Fence Post.

This, in turn helps farmers monitor the real-time maps, and alert other users of any imminent problems like pests, she noted.

While the Wheat Plot Tour was underway, another KSU crop expert was literally standing in the middle of the wheat field, tweeting “live” to the university’s agriculture audience.

“We’ve been tweeting for one year now, and have had a lot of response. I sent out three tweets during Wendy’s talk (@KStateAgronomy) and I’ve already had over a dozen re-tweets and mentions within 15-minutes,” said Gary Pierzynski, professor and head of soil and environmental chemistry at KSU. “We have 1,171 followers and it changes daily, but it’s that many more people who know what K-State does for agriculture.”

Also highlighted at the Wheat Variety Plot Tour, was another crop gaining in popularity nationwide and across the region — winter canola.

Kansas State University canola breeder Mike Stamm has successfully grown winter canola for the past three years through his variety trials at KSU’s Experiment Field, on-site near the wheat plots. Stamm acknowledged that the prolonged, cold 2013-2014 winter in Kansas and throughout the Plains was a tough one for testing canola’s winter hardiness.

“We’ve had a challenging year here … different from the past two years,” said Stamm. “This year, we are behind on precipitation … by about five inches from normal when we planted September 20, 2013, and we had one of the coldest winters in over a decade. It’s not going to be a high yield compared to what it yielded during the past two years, but we’ll harvest it and learn what varieties did best.”

The canola breeder told The Fence Post he’s optimistic and that some K-State experimental varieties had nearly 100 percent survival, which is more than adequate.

“You can have 50 percent survival and still raise a respectable crop. I believe winter canola will work in northern Kansas and we’re collecting data on winter hardiness and yield potential to help producers make variety selections,” added Stamm.

He relayed to the crowd, that drought, cold temperatures and cold winds really desiccated the canola plants.

“Maybe during eight out of 10 years, you’ll be fine here.”

After listening intently to Stamm’s analysis of the canola winter hardiness, fifth generation farmer Mike Baxa, who grows wheat, corn and soybeans, and manages the popular Polansky Seed business in Belleville, shared that this was his first year also planting canola in Belleville.

“It’s a learning process. It’s hard to be happy, or sad,” relayed Baxa. “We’ll keep trying. It’s a good alternative. It’s another choice for a crop. It spreads out your risk.”

Farmer Neil Wehling, from Diller, Neb., attended the wheat and canola tour, interested to learn more about the crop that’s often preferred as a cooking oil.

“I’m not familiar with canola yet. My landlord receives the K-State flyer,” said Wehling, who farms wheat, corn and beans near Diller.

Canola is also being considered by father-son farmers Keith and Keevan Portenier, who grow wheat, milo and soybeans in Jamestown, Kan.

“I learned some things about seed-soil contact and how important it is, and also about planting dates,” said Keevan.

“Well, if they can improve winter hardiness, we’ll try it,” declared Keevan’s dad Keith Portenier.

Stamm summed it up, saying, “We learned a lot about survival, and hopefully we’ll learn about recovery now.”

Keeping sharp eyes on the weeks ahead on the road to the upcoming harvest, combined with a renewed sense of hope, farmers will learn the final answer at the combine.

As farmer Strnad put it, “Regarding frost damage, we don’t know what it did, yet. We’ll know when we’re harvesting.” ❖