WICHITA, KAS. — Wheat fields can be deceiving. A uniform lush green stand viewed from the road may in reality be a sparse field with evidence of disease pressure, or a proliferation of weeds or pestilence. For 76 wheat scouts on Day 2 of the Wheat Quality Council’s Hard Winter Wheat Tour 2019, such up-close perusals of the wheat fields of western, southwestern and south central Kansas were the primary agenda item Wednesday.
“Sometimes the fields looked excellent from the road, uniformly very nice, and I said ‘this is going to be a 60 to 70 bu per acre yield,’ and when we got out there and really started counting stems, we ended up coming out with lower numbers,” said Romulo Lollato, an Extension Wheat and Forages Specialist with Kansas State University. “We saw a lot of spots where it perhaps didn’t emerge and we saw a lot of very spotty fields. So it can be somewhat deceiving.”
While deceptive wheat fields were a noted feature of the tour’s Day 2 swing south from Colby, Kas., through the hard white winter wheat country of southwestern Kansas and across the southern part of the state to Wichita, Kas., they were hardly the rule. Scouts giving car reports at Wednesday evening’s meeting reported widely varying wheat crop conditions. All agreed they’d witnessed a crop behind normal pace, but wheat growing in the majority of fields checked Wednesday had good potential for above-average yields if the right conditions fall into place, namely plentiful rain and a delay in the arrival of extreme summer temperatures until after most wheat reaches the grain-filling stage.
Duplicating Day 1’s procedure, scouts following one of six color-coded routes recorded impressions of growth stage, stands and moisture content, along with height and average tiller count per foot measurements. Those were totaled and averaged at Day 2’s evening stopover at the Clarion Wichita Airport. One route dipped into Oklahoma as scheduled to count tillers and examine the wheat crop in five northerly Oklahoman counties.
The average of estimates for Day 2 of the Hard Winter Wheat tour was 47.6 bus per acre, just 0.7 bu higher than Day 1, but up 12.4 bus, or 35%, from Day 2 of the 2018 tour, and up 21% compared with the average of the past five years’ Day 2 estimates.
The day’s averages were derived from 200 total wheat fields checked, down 40 fields from the previous day, and down 84 fields from Day 2 in 2018. The previous year’s tour attracted about 20 more wheat scouts and weather conditions were generally better, encouraging more stops, despite some routes encountering relatively brief pre-tornado-like conditions. The total of fields checked Wednesday was also down 73 compared with the Day 2 average of 2014-18.
The 2019 two-day average after a total 440 fields checked (down 27% from 601 fields checked over the first two days of the 2018 tour) was 47.2 bus per acre, up 12 bus, or 34%, from 2018 and up 20% from the 2014-18 two-day average.
During Wednesday’s evening session, scouts heard a report on the state of Oklahoma wheat from Mark Hodges, executive director of the non-profit wheat marketing organization Plains Grains.
Mr. Hodges said projections were for 3.19 million harvested acres of Oklahoma wheat yielding 37.38 bus per acre for a production total of 119,270,000 bus.
“The Oklahoma crops over the last 10 years have been as up and down as I think you could ever get,” Mr. Hodges said. “It’s been as low as the 50 million range, 70 million range, 150 million range, and back and forth. There’s a lot of variation, but fortunately this year it looks like we’ve got a pretty good crop,” with no major insect or disease pressures.
“There’s a little bit of rust showing up, but at this point we can’t really justify spraying it,” he said. “This crop was never under stress. The guys that planted early, in September, and got a really good root system, good tillers, actually had cattle out grazing some of that in pretty good shape. That was about 30% of the crop. The remaining part of the crop, it started raining into late September into October.
“Then we had the seventh coldest November on record, a below-average average temperature in December, January and February and we had soil saturated with water. When the weather warmed up it really took off.”
But a stress-free crop would have implications for producers as development progresses, Mr. Hodges said.
“The downside to not having any stress and having an extremely wet crop development, is I know there wasn’t enough nitrogren put on,” he said. “Some of it is evident from the color. It’s got us concerned about where we’re going to be from a quality standpoint.”
Mr. Hodges said 200,000 acres were lost to cotton at the start of the season.
“If you look at the southwest corner of Oklahoma, those guys feel like they might lose another 10% of the harvested acres down there, maybe to cotton, maybe to grazing, maybe to baling it up,” Mr. Hodges said.
Scouts were scheduled to depart Wichita, Kas., between 7 and 8 a.m. in 18 vehicles, again taking one of six circuitous routes and examining southcentral Kansas wheat fields en route to the final tour meeting over lunch at the IGP Institute in Manhattan, Kas.