Archive for Thursday, July 14, 2005

Erratic weather leaves mark on wheat harvest

July 14, 2005

George Abel had high expectations for this year's wheat harvest, until Kansas farmers experienced an unusually late freeze in May.

"We would have had a pretty good wheat crop, but the frost really set it back," Abel said.

The Eudora farmer still produced about 40 bushels per acre. But he said he could have produced more had the freeze not affected parts of his 200 acres of wheat.

The unusual weather condition -- even for Kansas -- was one of the main problems northeast Kansas farmers faced this year while developing their wheat harvest, said Leon Stites, Kansas State extension agent for agriculture and natural resources for Leavenworth County. He has heard about frost-related cases affecting wheat as far west as Beloit.

"It's been a little difficult because the berries aren't ripening on the same pace," Stites said.

The extreme coolness slowed down the wheat's development, he said. Wheat is a cool-season crop, so a longer period of cool weather during the spring season will produce more developed wheat. But this spring has been too cool for the wheat kernels, Stites said.

Frost damage would stop the kernel's development by freezing its head in the flag leaf, which is what primarily fills the grain.

Stites said he didn't expect this year's harvest to be as successful as past years. Last year's state average was above the normal 26 to 27 bushels per acre. Some area fields yielded far above that average, producing 40 to 50 bushels per acre, he said.

John Wise, a Leavenworth County farmer who also farms in Douglas County, said area farmers had reported harvesting "very average numbers." Wise said he averaged right in the middle, at about 35 bushels per acre.

In addition to the May freeze, last fall's wet weather caused several problems for area farmers -- those who planted at all.

Some farmers who planted last fall didn't produce a good crop this year because the planting conditions were too wet, Wise said. And some decided not even to waste their time planting because of the saturated soil.

Wheat doesn't germinate and grow very well when planted under wet conditions, Wise said.

But the saturated ground last fall was only the beginning of the rain problems. Constant rainfall late in the season produced too much moisture in the wheat seeds and the overall timeliness of the rain was not good for the dry-weather crop. The week and a half of rain in June stunted the wheat's maturation process because it occurred late in the season, Wise said.

"We just didn't have the right moisture at the right time," he said. "Normally you don't think rainfall would hurt a crop, but wheat is a special circumstance."

Abel had similar problems with too much moisture.

Wheat is considered dry when the moisture inside the seed is at 13 percent or less. But as the rain continued to fall, that moisture level shot up to 18 percent, which affected the crop's sale, he said.

"If it's 13, 14, they will take it," Abel said of buyers. "If it's 18, they don't want to take it at all."

Despite the setbacks, Abel said he was pleased with this year's harvest, which produced about the same amount as last year.

"Obviously we didn't complain with 40 bushels, but we expected more," he said. "I think some people had some really poor crops, but we were some of the luckier ones."

Wise also expected a much better harvest than what he and other local farmers produced, but Wise is a "glass half full" kind of farmer.

"Everyone anticipates a good harvest," he said. "But that's the eternal optimism we have."

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