Winter storm brings blessings for wheat farmers concerned about rust, crop stress |

Winter storm brings blessings for wheat farmers concerned about rust, crop stress

Harvester combine harvesting wheat on cloudy summer day.

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As the threat of wheat rust is becoming a reality for some farmers, the mid-March snow that hit Colorado brought relief.

“The storm is a blessing for moisture,” farmer Chris Wagner said.

Wagner has 300 acres of winter wheat, only about 4-5 inches high. Snow after wind and warm temperatures in the 60s and 70s put his crops in Firestone, Colo., under stress, but not to the extent some farmers are seeing.

The storm led to up to 190,000 power outages across Colorado, but wheat farmers saw the positive side of the blizzard-level amounts of snow.

On March 21, the Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee posted a release that stripe rust was found in southeast Kansas. Then two days later the first case in Colorado was reported in Prospect Valley. The committee’s release about the Prospect Valley case said the climate ­­— warmer temperatures with rain ­— causes rust. Preventative measures are normally the best route, according to the release, but that doesn’t mean measures can’t be taken once it starts to spread,

Marc Arnusch farms wheat in Keenesburg and said some of his wheat has already been hit with the stripe rust.

Arnusch said the Prospect Valley case is close in proximity to his own, but the amount of his wheat affected is small.

The rust has only hit a small edge of about 770 acres of total wheat, which is why the snow hit at a good time.

Since rust grows and spreads in warmer weather, he said the snow should help the situation.

“If the snow covers the crop, we’re hopeful it will prevent spread,” Arnusch said.

Stripe rust spreads quicker when temperatures are between 50 and 70 degrees.

Arnusch said last year, he found rust on almost every acre of wheat, but this year it’s minimal. The plan of action is to fungicide his crops once the land dries.

Wheat crops are already sprouting — a bit earlier than normal. Arnusch said his crops were about 2-3 inches tall and the early sprouting isn’t worrisome. Mid-July will still be the time to harvest, but getting that snow-based moisture helps crops experiencing rust and stress.

Before the snow hit, Wagner said his wheat was just coming out of dormancy — meaning the seeds just started to grow. Wagner said his crops are about 4-5 inches tall, but when the snow hit the crops, that meant protection from extreme heat or freeze.

“Freezing temperatures can cause winter kill, but snow helps,” Wagner said.

And with that timing of the snow, Arnusch said it can help with the crops moving forward.

“It’s more advanced wheat, but I’m confident we have time on our hands,” Arnusch said. ❖

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