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The 2011 winter wheat crop's waking up after winter dormancy, and spotty stands and late emergence have a lot of farmers and crop-watchers worried about the kind of crop that will unfurl as spring progresses.
Much of the wheat-rich Plains region has been the victim of serious drought conditions much of the last year, with some parts of Texas as dry as its been in almost half a century. The dry conditions have spawned grass fires in western Texas and Kansas as forecasters warn another 2 weeks without rain could torch the crop for good in some parts of the Plains.
So, what will happen now? Though the crop looks far from good in a lot of places, it's too early to throw in the towel, according to a report from University of Nebraska (UNL) Extension educators.
"Wheat growers remain hopeful that barren areas will fill in this spring. Some of this is already occurring. Winter wheat that does not emerge until this spring will produce few tillers and will probably finish later and yield less than wheat that emerged last fall. Wheat that germinated and was exposed to several weeks of cool temperatures after germination will be vernalized and produce a seed head in a timely manner," according to the UNL report co-authored by crops specialists and Extension educators from around the state. "With current wheat grain prices, growers should be slow to decide to tear out their wheat due to poor stands. However, growers with a lot of late-emerging wheat should carefully consider their weed control options."
Just how short on moisture is the wheat crop in parts of the Plains?
“Since September 1, in southwest Kansas we’ve had 38% of our normal moisture,” says Kansas State University Extension agronomist Jim Shroyer, who adds that west central and northwest Kansas are not faring much better (40% and 52% of normal, respectively) and that much of the late-emerging wheat is leafing out underneath the surface in those areas.
“Now is the time for wheat to tiller, and we’re running out of time and moisture for that to happen,” he adds in a report from Kansas Wheat.
The wheat in northwest and west-central Kansas could be better than expected, Shroyer adds, barring any unforeseen weather calamities. The central and eastern Kansas crops also look average to above average. In general, the difference between good-looking wheat and struggling wheat seems to be variability in planting date, and the spotty nature of rainfall events throughout the state since last fall.