Drought doesn't slow winter wheat planting
By Jennifer M. Latzke
Farmers who take a chance and dust in their wheat this fall may find themselves with a bin-busting crop next year--even following the severe drought covering the majority of winter wheat country this past summer.
The Sept. 12 Secretarial Drought Designations map from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency showed 2,038 counties in 32 states with primary drought disaster incidents. The U.S. Drought Monitor's Sept. 4 report showed the Plains from Texas to South Dakota are still in extreme to exceptional drought conditions. Nebraska and Kansas saw expansion of exceptional, or D4, drought expand to the western parts of both states. Eastern Kansas saw some improvement from rain from the remnants of Hurricane Isaac. Oklahoma saw exceptional drought expand into the Panhandle while Texas had general degradation in the south and Panhandle regions, the report said.
The weather was looking up, though. The Drought Monitor called for below normal temperatures through the middle of September with widespread chance of rain over the Central Plains through the Midwest. More than 1.5 inches of rain was projected over the area from Kansas and Oklahoma to western Kentucky.
Cooler temperatures with a little bit of moisture in the forecast will be welcome sights for winter wheat farmers--especially those who've spent all summer looking to the skies for rain. The latest report from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates a slight uptick in winter wheat planted acres--41.8 million in 2012, up from 40.6 million last fall.
Justin Knopf, a Kansas Wheat Commission board member from Salina, Kan., said farmers in his region will plant their wheat no matter the conditions.
"I think there may be some variability in the timing," Knopf said. Farmers may wait the last week of September or first part of October to start seeding in hopes that timely precipitation can make seeding conditions a little better.
"Our county, Oct. 31 is our crop insurance seeding deadline," Knopf said. " That will play into decision-making. If conditions are still poor for seeding, the closer that deadline looms the more marginal conditions farmers will accept to seed into.
"So much depends on soil moisture," he added. Over the past several weeks parts of central Kansas have received one-half to one inch of rain, but any moisture accumulated between now and October will help. Knopf said right now on his no-till wheat acres the soil moisture probe may go 10 inches or so into the field.
After talking with his neighbors and other wheat farmers around the state, Knopf said his gut tells him winter wheat acres are likely to be up some this fall. For his no-till farm, he said wheat is a valuable component of their crop rotation. Still, wheat acres will be up some because of failed row crop acres.
"On some of our failed dryland corn acres that would have been planted to soybeans we want some cover on those acres," he said. "We will probably fill in with wheat instead of soybeans." Knopf added that he's concerned with maximizing residue cover on his soils on his no-till acres.
"I think wheat acres are going to be strong," he added. "I think we've had two pretty tough years for row crop production in this part of the state. In the same two years wheat yields have been average to above average."
Tim Bartram, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Growers Association said grain only producers aren't really nervous. But for those farmers in Oklahoma and across the High Plains who plan to graze wheat pasture it's a whole different picture.
The Aug. 16 Livestock, Dairy, & Poultry Outlook from USDA Economic Research Service reported long term drought effects on cow slaughter and cattle feeding are apparent going into the fall. Some corn is being cut for silage, and that silage can carry feeder cattle to feedlot-placement weights. However, there still has to be some form of feed to carry those feeder cattle after they are removed from drought-damaged pastures until the silage has been fermented.
"Some locations in the southern Plains have received enough precipitation to raise hopes for wheat pasture for feeder calves this fall and winter," the report stated. "However, prospects in most of the winter wheat area are not good, especially in the western winter wheat area of the southern Plains." If wheat pasture is available it could have a positive effect on heifer and cow retention and be that low-cost option for growing feeder cattle to feedlot-placement weights.
The planting window for wheat pasture runs until the end of September, and Bartram said he doesn't see a lot of buyers picking up calves just yet.
"But, last year showed we are one to two good rains from having a totally different picture," he added. The best scenario would be for a tropical system to come up through Oklahoma from the south.
"If we don't have wheat pasture, this will badly hurt the cow-calf producer, even in areas that aren't in drought with the double whammy of high corn, and no wheat pasture," he added.
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.