Pratt County wheat fields are slowly changing color but it's not all the color farmers like to see.
Instead of that familiar transition from green to golden brown, a lot of fields are showing a gray color that indicates the top berries in the wheat head are not filling, said Pratt County Extension Agent Mark Ploger.
These grayish looking spots are showing up all over the field. The problem has just shown up in the last week. The problem is associated with moisture. While the area has gotten good moisture recently, it wasn't enough to fill the entire wheat head. The rains weren't enough to make up for the drought and provide enough moisture to fill the head.
"We just noticed this last week. Some of the fields are looking sick," Ploger said. "We thought we had plenty of moisture but we didn't. We didn't have enough moisture to get to the top berries."
The temperature has also played a part in the poor development. Three late season freeze events and a week of 90-degree temperatures stressed the wheat and added to the damage.
The amount of damage is not universal across the county. It varies from field to field. One field is showing lots of damage while the field down the road looks pretty good. It all depends on how much rain fell, when the crop was planted and what variety was used.
Damage is so bad in some fields that some farmers to the south have taken their wheat out of production before harvest. Fields have been swathed, baled and worked down because of the damage.
Pratt is not the only county showing this kind of damage. Ploger said reports he has seen indicated crop production could be down as much as 30 percent below normal across the state.
"It's not looking too promising," Ploger said.
The full extent of the problem will not be known until harvest is complete. With the current weather outlook and the appearance of the wheat fields, harvest in Pratt County is going to be much later than is has been in the past couple of years.
At this rate, harvest will start no earlier than June 20 to June 25. It's a good possibility that area farmers will start harvest the last week in June and still be harvesting on July 4, Ploger said.
Compared with last year, harvest started very early in 2012. Harvest was getting close to completion this time last year because the area had already experienced several 90 degree and 100 degree days that got the wheat ripe and ready to go very early.
The weather has also slowed harvest across the country. Normally, custom cutting crews would be traveling through Pratt on U.S. 281 to Texas to start harvesting. That parade of harvest crews has not been as numerous this year.
Page 2 of 2 - Most area farmers who use custom cutters already have contracts so the few crews going south should not be an issue here.