How wheat plots connect farmers to harvest success in Pratt County

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
KS Dallas, one of 20 wheat varieties planted in Jesse Blasi's field north of Pratt, was evaluated by experts and interested farmers and citizens last Thursday during an annual Pratt County Wheat Plot tour event. The wheat plots are still open for viewing for those who want to test their observation abilities to notice differences in wheat varieties.
Pratt County extension agent Jodi Drake welcomes 20-30 attenders to the Pratt County Wheat Plot tours on May 13, north of Pratt on farmground belonging to David and Jesse Blasi.

Wheat plots provide insight to harvest success

Raising wheat is a family affair for Jesse Blasi of Pratt but the circle of connections he makes by planting wheat plots extends far and wide to help others from Pratt County and beyond. Last Thursday, at the Pratt County Wheat Plot Tour 1 mile north of the U.S. Highway 54 and 60th Avenue junction on the west side of the road, more than 20 area farmers, family members, a dozen or so seed dealers, state research experts and extension agents met to share production insights with an eye to the future.

"Pretty much we've been doing this every year for 30 years because no one else will," Blasi said. "Somebody's got to do it and there is always something new to learn. It's a lot of work drilling in those small batches and then putting special equipment on our combines at harvest, but it's always worth it. It's almost like a community service project."

Wheat plots are sections of cultivated ground where several varieties of wheat seeds are planted in rows for comparison as they grow and mature to harvest. Blasi, his wife Sarah, their two girls Reagan (10) and Avery (8), along with other family members, are involved in drilling the wheat varieties into the ground every September, usually on their land north of Pratt.

"Most of the varieties of wheat grown in Kansas are around for maybe five years or so," Blasi said. "Every five years something new comes along and farmers want to see how that type of seed will do in our climate and soil before they invest in seeding it themselves."

Blasi said wheat is an expensive crop to grow as there is a lot of input needed in addition to just the seeds, from nitrogen fertilizer to fungicide spray, in order to promote growth and neutralize disease, respectively.

"The average farmer puts in 1.5 million seeds per acre in a Kansas wheat field," Blasi said. "They all want to know what type is going to do the best for them by harvest, and they want to know that before buying those seeds and putting them in the ground. That's what we learn from the wheat plots."

On May 13, Kansas State University Wheat Forage Extension Specialist Romulo Lollato met with wheat growers and others to explain wheat variety data while seed dealers offered the pros and cons of those varieties for south-central Kansas production. The tour was organized by Pratt County Extension Agent Jodi Drake.

"What we are looking for when we do this is, number 1, yield potential," Blasi said. "We all want something that is going to perform well, be disease tolerant and thrive in spite of our typical weather extremes."

Blasi said individual farmers sometimes had different views on what might work best for their crop scenario. For instance, someone looking to put cattle out on fall wheat would want something with a fast emergence growth, while someone looking for no-till advantages and off-season ground cover might look for taller stems and more stubble.

"Certain farmers plant certain varieties for certain results, so just about all wheat fields are different," Blasi said. "That is what is so fascinating about growing wheat is that there is always something more to learn about how to make a better crop that will better feed humanity."

As for family involvement, at last week's Pratt County Wheat Plot tour Sarah Blasi and the Blasi girls, Reagan and Avery, listened with just as much in interest as the 20-30 farmers and state experts who were gathered there.

"This is where our food comes from," Sarah Blasi said. "I grew up raising cattle and horses, so I didn't know that much about wheat when we got married, but now I want to know just as much as the next person which one of these varieties of wheat that we put in will do the best in this part of Kansas."

Sarah Blasi said she thought it was important for her girls, and for everyone, to recognize the importance of agriculture in everyone's lives.

"The grand scheme of it all is to always work to improve the environment and production," she said. "Reagan was taking notes during the tour because that is what her dad does. She is very interested in farming and agriculture. Avery, she just enjoys being out here and running around in the fields. It's all part of the whole picture that we should all care about because this is where life starts. We have to have a food source that is safe and will feed as many as possible. That's why we love wheat."

Jesse Blasi said the Pratt County wheat plots are available for anyone and everyone to come out and take a look out, whether they are farmers or not.

"We often have people calling to find out where the wheat plots are so that they can just drive by," he said. "You can see the varieties clearly marked and compare the differences without even getting out of your car. It is really interesting."

As the month of May comes to an end and custom harvest rigs already rolling through Pratt heading south for the start of the 2021 wheat harvest, Blasi said excitement is building. It might be about a month before the wheat in Pratt County is ready to cut, however.

"Our subsoil moisture bank was empty last week but the rains we have had lately helped out," he said. "We are going to need about a 1/2" of rain a week from here on out to get into the good harvest yields, but it looks promising. There is some good wheat out there."

On May 17, Blasi was interviewed in a Facebook Live event to provide some background information into all that goes into producing a good wheat crop in Kansas and how custom harvest crews play a big role in getting Kansas wheat from the fields to the elevators. That video, produced by Mandi Sieren, Operations Manager for U.S. Custom Harvesters, is available here: https://www.facebook.com/uscustomharvesters/videos/296176735389791

Examples of 20 varieties of wheat are available for comparison 1 mile North of Pratt from the U.S. Highway 54/60th Avenue junction.