COLBY, KAS. — The details shared were different, but the story was nearly the same: Wheat growing in central Kansas looked good while the crop growing at higher elevations and under dryer conditions was in different stages of miserable — short in height with shallow roots, evidence of freeze damage and, above all, still compromised by drought.
Such was the consensus at day’s end of the trips made by the nearly 80 participants in the 56th annual Wheat Quality Council’s hard winter wheat tour, who spent April 29 on different routes from Manhattan to Colby, logging more than 300 miles punctuated by multiple stops where everyone took yard sticks and measured stems per inch, height of the wheat and examined the stalks for signs of disease, freeze damage and drought-related browning and yellowing of leaves and stems.
The key estimate, using a proprietary formula, was an average yield of 43.8 bus per acre, a reduction from last year’s prediction of 53.4 bus per acre for the area but above area estimates made in 2009 and 2011, which ranged from 40 to 41.3 bus per acre.
High and low estimates made at different locations on the wheat tour ranged widely, reflecting the variation in conditions. Some observers recorded an estimate of 81 bus per acre in one field in central Kansas that benefited from significant moisture, while another team surveyed a planted field that will yield no wheat western Kansas.
The tour crossed into some counties in southern Nebraska, where the estimate was only 30 bus per acre because of freeze damage, and eastern Colorado, where the estimate was 34 bus per acre, at another location where wheat was struggling because of drought.
Weather during the first day of data collection was warm, sunny and somewhat windy. Temperatures on May 1, when cars of wheat tour participants travel from Colby to Wichita, typically making about 14 stops along the way, are expected to drop sharply to near freezing, with precipitation in the form of sleet or snow complicating weather conditions.
Jim Shroyer of the Kansas State University agricultural extension service, predicted that wheat tour participants would see some “really, really bad wheat and some good wheat” May 1 as they spend more of their day in western Kansas.
“When you head east, you will see the wheat improve dramatically,” he said. He predicted farmers would forego abandonment of unsuccessful stands because they would want whatever straw they could produce to stay in fields in order to limit wind erosion.