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PrattTribune - Pratt, KS
  • Moisture helped, but wheat crop showing stress

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  • Area wheat fields are going green following snow and rain precipitation during the winter months.
    However, a close examination reveals that some portions of the field look less than healthy and have a brown tint that reveals a problem with survival.
    One area showing stress is the tops of terraces. The wheat around the terrace and on the sides looks healthy but on top, the terraces have the familiar brown look of winter kill.
    During the snowstorms, the snow drifted along the sides of the terraces but it tended to blow off the tops and that was a problem.
    "Terraces dry out quicker than anything," Ploger said. "When it dries out so fast and is exposed to extreme temperatures below freezing in the teens and single digits, the plants don't have enough moisture to keep the roots alive."
    The top of the terrace probably dried out from exposure to the elements, said Mark Ploger, Pratt County Extension agent.
    Once the moisture was gone the wheat didn't have enough to survive the cold temperatures and some of it died, leaving brown spots covering some terraces.
    However, brown spots are showing up in random spots in other wheat fields without terraces. In these fields, most of the wheat looks good but then an odd shaped brown area will show up or long brown streaks that look like they are in wheel tracks will break up the green in the field.
    Several things could be causing the odd brown shapes in the fields. A lack of nutrients could be the culprit. If fertilizer was not applied evenly it could have left an area untreated or not treated as much and that could have caused a problem.
    If an area didn't get enough moisture when it was planted, weeds could have come up and taken the moisture from the wheat. With a lack of moisture, the wheat might not have been healthy enough to survive cold winter temperatures.
    Some wheat may not have been fully developed when winter set in and it just didn't have enough moisture to withstand the cold, Ploger said.
    Whatever the cause, it would take require taking a sample and sending it to a pathologist to determine the exact cause of the problem.
    Wheat that is winter killed is done. While healthy wheat can benefit from moisture and top dressing, no amount of help will save the winterkill.
    Top dressing should be done before the wheat joints and about 50 to 60 percent has already entered the joint stage.
    A lot of farmers were waiting on moisture to top dress but by the time moisture came it was too late to get into the field. Some are going to go ahead and try it but it's a gamble, Ploger said.
    Page 2 of 2 - Farming has always been a gamble. Knowing when to plant and apply herbicide depends on moisture that may or may not come. It's expensive to put machines in the field once but to have to do it again or get no return on the investment makes it hard to show a profit.
    "It's not an easy roll of the dice," Ploger said. "It takes a lot of planning, a lot of sampling and just a lot of luck sometimes."
    For the past couple of years, the area has experienced every little moisture and higher than above normal temperatures. This year is actually closer to the average normal conditions for March over a 100-year period, Ploger said.
    With two years of drought in the area, the rain and snow is welcome but it hasn't made up for the lack of moisture.
    With the recent moisture and warming temperatures, the wheat is starting to grow again and will quickly use up the available moisture and need more.
    Accurate weather forecasts are hard to come by but Ploger has a positive outlook, just like the farmers in the area.
    "I'm going to be an optimist and hope for moisture," Ploger said.
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