McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
  • Wheat parched, soon to be dormant

  • While East Coast residents wring out after Hurricane Sandy, Midwest wheat producers look to the sky for any signs of a thundercloud.
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  • While East Coast residents wring out after Hurricane Sandy, Midwest wheat producers look to the sky for any signs of a thundercloud.
    With each sunny, rainless autumn day, farmers continue to worry of lost winter wheat yields. If the ground continues its parched state into winter dormancy, it will have much catching up to do come spring.
    “The longer it takes for us to get moisture, the more stressful it’s going to be,” said Jonie James, McPherson County K-State Research and Extension agent.
    The area sits at 11.83 inches below normal precipitation levels, according to Kansas Agricultural Statistics. Although rains surrounding wheat planting gave some producers hope — just less than 2.5 inches in the last two months — this year’s lackluster rain piggybacked on 2011’s drought has left soil dry.
    Topsoil moisture (first few inches) sits at 25 percent very short, 38 percent short and 37 percent
    adequate, according to Kansas Agricultural Statistics. The drought’s real effects can be seen even deeper in the subsoil moisture, where supplies are 47 percent very short, 38 percent short, and 15 percent adequate in McPherson’s central district.
    “There’s no guarantee when this drought will end,” James said. “(Producers') biggest fear is the moisture will shut off. I think that plays on people’s minds. I think people feel really good about the rains they have received, but there is some concerns on how it will go from here because there is no subsoil moisture.”
    Jones said rains are needed in order for the wheat crop to remain healthy prior to winter dormancy, when it stays below freezing for more than 24 hours. These conditions coupled with high temperatures is unhealthy for the crop. The average temperature last week was 54 degrees Fahrenheit, two degrees above normal for this time of year, according to Kansas Agricultural Statistics.
    Amid the unusual weather, almost 100 percent of are producers have planted their winter wheat. Although official reports have not been released, Michael Westerman from the McPherson Farm Service Agency said he projects planting acres to be up this year. So producers remain positive — for now.
    “Right now I’m happy,” Mike Olson, McPherson wheat producer said. “I feel I’m in fairly good shape. The little rain we had has helped, but that’s not going to last very long. If we get the moisture and things hold up, I’m fairly optimistic.”
    Steve Graber, Mid Kansas Coop field marketer, said some are waiting to watch weather patterns before they apply treatments. But prices more than $8 per bushel leave many thinking it’s worth the risk.
    “When prices are good like that, I don't see them holding back on their inputs,” he said.
    Page 2 of 2 - And it seems the crop is rarely disappointing.
    “Wheat is known as a drought crop,” James said. “It can look really bad and you can get just the right moisture and it can come back. It has that potential. People have a lot of faith in that. It may not be the best wheat crop, but it’s a wheat crop.”
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