Kansas wheat harvest is affected by drought conditions

Submitted by Julia Debes

As the early stages of harvest shift from south-central to southwest Kansas, yields and morale are decreasing. Extreme drought in the area throughout the growing season is severely limiting yields, causing more abandonment and calls to the insurance adjuster in the region. Even fields that look somewhat decent from the road and are disappointing in the bin, adding to the stress from difficulties finding help and escalating fuel and input prices.

“It’s hard to get excited about this,” said Tyler Ediger, who farms with his family and raises seed wheat in Meade County.

He reported average yields up to 30 or 40 bushels per acre for the late-planted, later maturing varieties, which caught a break at the end with a few rain showers. Earlier varieties were already done by the time the rain arrived. He noted a neighbor had a field that looked great from the road but only averaged 18 bushels per acre because the heads didn’t fill. Other fields in the area are averaging only 10 to 15 bushels per acre.

Even with higher commodity prices this year, low yields and increased fuel prices are putting pressure on farmers in the area. Fuel costs alone are up $3 per acre from last year.

While the fields are short and thin and the seeds are small, there is some good news. Overall, yields are coming in about five bushels per acre more than expected for the area. The test weights are fantastic, ranging up to 65 pounds per bushel, and they’ve had no rust or disease pressure this year. Proteins are ranging from 11 to 15.5 percent.

This year’s harvest will wrap up in only seven days because they can move through the fields quickly, and no rainfall is in the forecast. They are trying to harvest as high as possible on these short fields to maximize stubble. Weeds are starting to come in, so Ediger emphasized the importance of spraying right away to control weeds and trying to keep the ground shaded to prevent further moisture loss.

Weeds could also be an issue in Ford County if a rain shower does pop up. One of the only upsides to the drought is that there was not a lot of rust in the area, although some farmers did need to spray fungicide, according to Mike Schmidt, grain division manager at Pride Ag Resources in Dodge City. There is also a below-average amount of wheat streak mosaic virus, which he attributed a lack of volunteer emergence last summer due to short moisture availability.

Harvest around Dodge City started on June 12 and will be completed by July 4. Yields are all over the place, ranging from six to 60 bushels per acre, depending on if it was summer fallow or double-cropped. Overall, he expects the area average to be 35 bushels per acre. Proteins are averaging 12.0 to 12.9 percent, and test weights are staying good at 60-61 pounds per bushel. Most area producers looking forward plan to stick with their crop rotations, regardless of input costs or wheat prices.

Schmidt also noted local elevators are running with half the normal staff because they cannot find anyone to hire, one of the biggest challenges right now.

Luke Jaeger, who farms with his brother Matt in Clark, Ford and Meade counties, also noted concerns with finding truck drivers who can legally drive semis and echoed the severity of the drought conditions in the region.

Jaeger has been farming near Minneola for 26 years and said this was the “driest spring we’ve ever had.”

More than half of the brothers’ wheat acres won’t be harvested at all, appraised at zero to two bushels per acre. Summer fallow fields are making 25 to 35 bushels per acre, and most continuous wheat won’t be harvested at all. Some fields received rain after the wheat was ripe, meaning weed pressure is now coming in. Because they no-till, the brothers will spray their fields as soon as harvest is over to control the weeds.

In Meade County south of Fowler, it’s even drier than south of Minneola. Even their irrigated wheat is not good, noting hot, dry, wind-scorched wheat. Proteins are higher than normal, ranging from 13 to 15 percent.

He said farmers are extremely nervous. Even with no crop, they have some safety net provided by crop insurance. But they’re very worried about the skyrocketing costs of inputs and availability of “what we have to have to grow food.”

He noted worsening rail and supply chain issues are creating ripple effects, and their biggest challenge is trying to manage chemical and fertilizer prices and availability.

“We work really hard to grow a quality product and raise the best quality product we can,” Jaeger said. “This is done by ‘really listening to what your customer wants.’”

The 2022 Harvest Report is brought to you by the Kansas Wheat Commission, Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, and the Kansas Grain and Feed Association. To follow along with harvest updates on Twitter, use #wheatharvest22. Tag us at @kansaswheat on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to share your harvest story and photos.


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