Farm Talk

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April 10, 2012

Preparing for an early harvest

Parsons, Kansas — Unusually mild winter and spring temperatures have area farmers preparing for an early wheat harvest.

Doug Shoup, K-State Extension area agronomist, is starting to see wheat jointing already, putting the crop two weeks ahead of normal.

“Wheat is ahead of schedule due to warmer temperatures,” he explains. “The other thing is that it never really cooled down. Temperatures started mild and remained that way which kept wheat growing.”

If trends continue, Shoup says this year’s wheat crop could actually be closer to three weeks early.

Kansas State Climatologist Mary Knapp agrees with Shoup’s forecast for an early wheat forecast.

“Basically we saw a very mild February and March in particular,” she said. “Our average temperature during that time was 54.5 degrees fahrenheit, about 12 degrees warmer than normal.”

The warmer temperatures have caused advanced vegetative growth compared to typical years.

Currently, Shoup says area wheat fields are just starting to head-out in southeast Kansas.

“We know that about six to seven weeks after wheat heads out it is harvest time and that is going to put us in that mid-May timeframe,” he explains.

In most cases, being early is a good thing, but there is a looming possibility that has everyone in the industry concerned—what if we get a freeze?

“It is not unlikely to get a freeze in April or May and wheat is much more susceptible to freeze damage at heading than any other time in its life cycle,” he says.

Knapp shares the same concern for the Kansas wheat crop.

“Right now, the big concern is whether or not we will see a freeze,” she says.

According to her, this is a very realistic concern since, for much of the state, the average late freeze date is around mid-April.

“In southeast Kansas it is possible to see a late freeze up to early May,” she says.

Although there is still a lot of potential for a freeze in southeast Kansas, Knapp says the weather outlook is for continued warmer temperatures lessening that possibility.

“The important thing to remember is that the likelihood is lessened but it is not eliminated,” she explains.

“A freeze is really the only disadvantage of having a wheat crop that is ahead of schedule,” Shoup says.

The worst time to get a freeze, he adds, is in the flowering stage, 10 to 14 days after heading.

Barring weather issues, though, this year’s wheat crop looks good, according to Shoup.

“For the most part, wheat looks really good,” he says. “We have seen a couple of diseases starting to show up, mainly wheat streak mosaic and some early signs of barley yellow dwarf.”

Part of the reason, he says, is a higher-than-normal number of aphid this spring.

“Aphid vector the barley yellow dwarf virus,” Shoup explains. “However, while aphid numbers have been high, we have rarely seen thresholds big enough to treat them with insecticide.”

Wheat streak mosaic, on the other hand, is vectored by a mite that likely carried-over from last year’s corn crop.

“Neither one of these diseases is curable at this time of the year due to the fact they are viruses and we don’t have anything to treat them with,” he says. “So, at this point in time, there is no reason for producers to take any action to try to correct it.”

Predicting potential yield loss from the diseases is difficult, Shoup says.

“We just don’t have any good numbers on how much yield loss can be caused by these diseases,” he explains. “They can range from non-significant, up to 30 percent yield loss in severe cases.”

In summary, the agronomist feels the overall wheat crop condition is very good to excellent compared to past years.

“I think the wheat crop is fine,” he concludes.

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