Nearly half of all winter wheat growing in Kansas is in poor or very poor condition, as compared to 17 percent this time last year.
The 49 percent of poor condition wheat, as reported by the National Agriculture Statistics Service, may not be salvageable if weather conditions, high wind speeds and moisture levels don't improve.
"The wheat hasn't gone downhill, it's never been uphill. We had poor conditions when it went into the ground and it never had good conditions to get established since," Jay Warner, a wheat, milo and soybean farmer in western McPherson County.
As much needed recent rains have finally given the crops some moisture, it wasn't enough to get Kansas out of a drought.
"We're officially in a stage D2 extreme drought. Last fall, especially with double-crop or situations where the moisture was already stressed, it was a thin crop. Also last fall, a lot of wheat never got the chance to germinate. If you went out a week ago and dug in the dirt, you could find the whole wheat kernel that is still sitting in the dry dirt," he said. "Wheat doesn't need to be wet. It just needs time and rain. So the wheat that's out there if we could get timely rains, it could still make quite a bit of grain, average or above if everything's perfect."
Aside from the weather, farmers are also concerned about how markets will be affected by potentially low yields.
"Yes — it's that bad. Wheat acres are way down because of poor markets and poor wheat price and wheat yield hasn't increased as much as soybeans, corn or milo yields. Last year I think it was we set a 100-year low on planted wheat acres. I think we forecast about the same as this year maybe a little less. But we've really lost a lot of wheat acres in the state due to weather factors," Warner noted.
With drought-like conditions weighing heavy on Kansas wheat farmers, tillering rates may also be affected before harvest.
"If the weather cooperates, we can probably get seven heads off of the wheat stalk. One of the amazing things about the way wheat works in Kansas is because its self adjusts. We can still get some tillering this spring if we start getting some ideal weather," he added.
Though the outlook is bleak, Warner said there is still a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
"We might be able to get rid of some of the grain piles if we have a bad year. My neighbor has had 70 percent of his wheat crop stand this year. Not that 70 percent of his crop came up, but that 30 percent of his acres were bare, but where wheat is up, there's wheat out there. If the weather can cooperate, we can still get an average yield this year without too much problem," he said.
Contact Brooke Haas by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @ MacSentinel.