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Drought continues to spread its fingers across the High Plains wheat region. The dry fall had many wheat growers dusting in their crops with the prayer for winter moisture. With the exception of a few snowfall events the winter was dry.

That is until the Small Grain Solutions tour March 25 to 27 with Brian Ganske and Jennifer Collins, John Deere Solution specialists. The duo scouted fields surrounding Salina, Kan.; Enid, Okla.; and Dodge City, Kan.

From left, Brian Ganske chats about root development with Shelby Richling of Concordia Tractor Inc., farmer Francis Komarek, and Jennifer Collins just west of Salina, Kan. (Journal photo by Jennifer M. Latzke.)
For the first time in the history of the tour, Ganske and Collins pre-scouted the Salina area a week before the March 25 dinner in order to get a more comprehensive look at the crop. They toured fields to the west and east of Salina on March 18, and then to the south the morning of March 25. This proved a wise choice when trace amounts of snow and precipitation fell over much of the wheat ground March 25.

For the most part, Ganske said he saw quite a few good fields. He cautioned growers to keep on top of their weed control, especially as they go into a dry year.

“There are quite a few weeds in the area that we should get treated here in the future,” Ganske said. “If we’re looking at possibly a dry year that will suck a lot of yield out of your field, it doesn’t take too many.”

Ganske reported subsoil moisture measurements in the fields visited ranged from 2 to 3 feet.

“Now, you might think that’s great now, but think about an 80-degree day with a good south wind as it warms up,” he said. “We’ll lose that pretty quick. It looks good now, but wait 30 to 60 days.”

The crew looked at some no-till fields and farmers had reported some residue issues since there was little to no moisture last summer to break down the residue enough for openers to cut through.

“In one of the fields we dug into a mat of residue and saw a seed that had not sprouted but was just laying above the soil,” Ganske said. “Maybe this summer we should think about setting our combines to spread our residue out a little more so there aren’t mats in the field.”

This was the first time the Small Grain tour stopped in Enid. The crew visited wheat and canola fields north of town. After 10 years on the tour, it is rare that Ganske finds something unique in a wheat field, but this year he saw something unusual.

“We took out the soil probe today, and in this no-till field we only got it in 3 inches,” Ganske said. “We found a healthy plant, pulled it up and saw that it had a lot of nice healthy roots. But the roots were flat.

“It’s as if the plant grew down, hit that spot with no moisture and instead of burrowing down through that layer, the roots went horizontal,” he explained.

“They were beautiful roots, but they were only in the top 2.5 to 3 inches of soil. So, the first hot, nice, warm day, we’re going to start seeing some stress in the wheat.”

With that shallow of a root system, Ganske advised farmers that might have that situation in their own fields to think about their topdressing choices, because the yield potential just might not be there as much as it has been in the past.

Ganske also mentioned that if farmers do have as dry of a spring as last year, then weed control will be vital to a successful wheat crop. Any weeds in a field will compete for moisture, and if a farmer only has a few inches he doesn’t want it going to weeds, he said.

The tour saw some fields of striped wheat following last year’s strip tilled corn.

“You can see that the wheat is finding some more fertilizer that wasn’t used last year in the drought,” Ganske said. “Seeing this tells you that you aren’t putting on enough fertilizer on your wheat if you see this goof of a response to the fertilizer already there.”

The canola in the area, while not quite as far along as the fields the tour visited last year, still looked fairly good, Ganske added.

Minneola, Kan., farmer Gary Harshberger uses a soil probe to check the soil moisture levels in one of his fields south of Dodge City, Kan. He was able to push the probe nearly 6 feet in the ground. (Journal photo by Kylene Scott.)

On the final day of the tour, Ganske and Collins toured fields south of Dodge City in both Ford and Clark counties. They used soil probes to test the moisture levels and were astounded by the ability to get the probes into the ground past the 3-foot mark. One field even allowed for a 6-foot depth.

Gary Harshberger credits his modified no-till program that manages his residue to save water. He said his area normally receives about 20 inches of rain annually and summer moisture is often limited. He called the quality in his area spotty at best; and he’s found by digging in his fields that some have moisture, and others not so much. There are places where it’s vigorous and others farther west and even south that didn’t have the moisture. He thinks his crop is going to be highly variable this year.

“In dry conditions residue is key and residue management is key,” Harshberger said. “There’s a direct correlation between the amount of residue we have to how much soil moisture there is.”

On his farm in August 2012 parts of his fields received up to 6 inches of rain, leaving a “pretty decent profile” in his wheat fallow program.

In order to capture the moisture and have something to manage in the times when there is limited rainfall, the farmer has gone to cutting the wheat with a stripper header and leaving as much residue in the field as possible. By not strictly no-tilling his fields, and tilling when it needs it, he has found that the hard pan keeps the moisture as well as letting it in when it does rain.

“We are in preservation mode,” he said. “If we do tillage right basically this hard pan is always wet.” A cooler spring is also beneficial, and the farmer hopes it continues, as it helps the crop. In dry situations they are planting a little bit later so that there would not be too much growth too early and the wheat will not run out of gas too early.

“It’s somewhat of a doubleedged sword too and it doesn’t always work that way,” he said. “I think that our later planted wheat, whereas the earlier planted stuff went ahead and made it. It seemed like the later planted stuff needed just a little bit more moisture.” Harshberger said he will go with what works in order to raise a wheat crop in his area.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached by phone at 620-227-1807, or by email at Kylene Scott can be reached by phone at 620-227-1804 or by email at