A recipe for winter wheat: Not too hot, not too cold, add water

By Sam Jack

sjack@tsnews.com

Winter wheat across the local area is now showing a first joint above the soil line, signaling that the crop has entered its reproductive phase of development.

Looking ahead, farmers are hoping that the weather will not turn too hot or too cold, which could damage yields.

But the one thing there can hardly be too much of is moisture, with the precipitation earlier this week representing a good start on what’s needed.

“Things are really progressing pretty well, temperature- and moisture-wise, but anything could happen at this point,” said Ron Kenney, an agronomist with Progressive Ag Coop. “What’s going to really matter is what kind of temperatures we get toward the tail end, by the end of maturity. We’ve had enough moisture early to hold it through the winter and early spring, but time will tell.”

With wheat commodity prices unfavorable, some farmers held off on spending on fertilizer inputs, instead looking ahead to summer crops, Kenney said. But wheat prices have lately recovered somewhat, leaving producers “behind the eight-ball.”

Still, “as long as we don’t get hot temperatures as we go into April and May, then we have a prospect of a normal, 50 to 60 bushel (per acre) crop,” Kenney said.

Lack of moisture has put stress on winter wheat, according to Sedgwick County Extension agent Zach Simon, and winter grain mites have not helped.

“You literally need a microscope to see them,” Simon said of the mites. “It’s got to be a warm day when you go out and look for them, because they burrow down in the soil when it gets cold.”

The mites pierce wheat plants and suck moisture away; as many as 50 of the tiny pests can be found on a single leaf.

“If the wheat has ample moisture and is growing, you won’t see any negative effects, because (the plant) will just outgrow them. Typically, they really stress the wheat when it’s moisture-stressed,” Simon said. “Moisture would just make a lot of people happier.”

A cold snap could also damage the crop at this point in its development. Earlier cold spells caused some tip burn-back, but that was mostly cosmetic damage and should not affect yields, according to Simon.

“I checked the Clearwater test plot, and we’re not quite as far along there (as in Andale), but the wheat head is formed; it’s jointed. So a really hard freeze would hurt us at this point,” Simon said. “If we avoid the late freezes and get moisture, I think we’re poised for a decent crop.”