Kansas farmers and ranchers always have faced challenges in their livelihoods. It comes with the territory.
That said, it’s dry in wheat country. Dry all the way from the Colorado border in Stanton County to Manhattan.
On Feb. 6, Stanton County farmer and seed producer Jim Sipes drove 360 miles from his farm southwest of Manter to eastern Kansas. Along the way, he saw thousands of acres of winter wheat, even though planted acres are down in his region of southwest Kansas.
“It’s difficult to make money on wheat right now,” Sipes says. “Some farmers plan to plant other crops like corn or grain sorghum on ground they might otherwise have planted to wheat.”
So what does the Kansas wheat crop look like?
There’s plenty of variability in the crop, according to the Stanton County farmer. Some of the fields sport good stands. Others look poor. While others have little or no stands at all. This wheat didn’t emerge until the moisture came in the way of rain and ice during the last days of January.
Sipes estimates his crop standability in the 70-percent range.
Such growth patterns bode badly for the wheat because it will not have enough time to tiller and produce a normal crop. And while that’s the way conditions look now, plenty can change depending on spring weather and the amount of moisture that falls.
Sipes believes the potential still exists for a “decent crop,” but the late emerging wheat might suffer in yield.
For this late developing crop, some wheat producers might choose not to apply fertilizer, fungicides or address other issues that could enhance the yield potential.
“I just spent the last few days trying to decide whether to top dress my wheat or not,” Sipes says. “Until we received that inch of rain in late January, I probably wouldn’t have considered doing it. To apply fertilizer would have been an expense difficult to recoup with additional production.”
Without adding fertilizer, this means producers like Sipes would be extracting valuable substances from the soil with the crop they harvest from the fields later in the summer. Such nutrients are necessary to maintain crop and soil fertility.
“It’s important to put such important inputs into the soil to protect the long-term viability,” Sipes says.
Returning to the condition of the winter wheat, he says plenty of the wheat still wears a brown color but some of the crop is beginning to green up.
Some of this wheat suffered during the cold snaps in December and January. How much if any winter kill remains to be seen.
East of Great Bend and into the Salina area, the winter wheat crop begins to look a bit better, Sipes says. However, he still reports pockets of poor wheat as well.
“I’m still hoping for some favorable spring weather with timely moisture that will help our state’s wheat crop recover,” he says.
And while the southwest Kansas wheat producer would like to think the price of wheat might go up because of some of the poor fields of wheat in southwest Kansas and the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas, he’s convinced the value of wheat and the ability to sell it will depend on the value of the U.S. dollar.
“The future of agriculture in our state and the nation depends on our ability to move our grain and livestock around the world,” Sipes says. “We must send this message to the Trump administration. Agriculture needs more trade.”
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwest Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.