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The inaugural 2020 Virtual Wheat Tour wrapped up May 21 with final reports from the volunteer scouts in the field. The tour estimated a potential Kansas wheat harvest of 284.4 million bushels, which is below the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent estimate of 306 million bushels.

As Kansas Wheat Vice President of Research and Operations Aaron Harries explained previously, this virtual tour was not meant to fully replace the annual Wheat Quality Council’s Hard Winter Wheat Tour that annually hosts 80 to 100 or more participants driving across the state of Kansas for three days scouting several hundred wheat fields the first week of May. Rather, it was only offered as a snapshot of the wheat crop’s potential, using a later-season formula from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, May 18 to 21.

Day 3 yield reports for the south central part of the sate were a range of 21 to 83 bushels per acre, with an average of 49.5 bushels. For central Kansas, that yield range was 20 to 87 bushels per acre potential, for an average yield of 47.6 bushels acre. Combined with the previous reports from Day 1 and Day 2, the total estimated yield potential for Kansas wheat this year will be just around 44.5 bushels per acre, which is just under the USDA estimated average of 47 bushels per acre.

Kansas Wheat CEO Justin Gilpin, said that when the decision to cancel the yearly tour in response to the COVID-19 pandemic came out, a lot of people were disappointed but understood the reason for that. The concept of this first-ever virtual wheat tour actually came up during a Zoom meeting of Kansas wheat volunteer board members.

“Even with a few glitches here and there it went off probably better than any of us expected,” Gilpin said. And while it’s unique to not be able to compare this year’s data against previous tours, just due to the different methodology and timing of the tour, it’s still a valuable snapshot in time to be able to share with wheat industry partners around the globe.

                                                                 Central, south central and eastern Kansas

Dave Green, Wheat Quality Council executive director, was able to get out on Day 3 to take a look at five counties in central Kansas, which averaged about 53 bushels per acre.

“The crop I saw was very good,” Green said. “I didn’t find disease or freeze damage. But we were also in the rain most of the day, which made it difficult to get into the fields to measure.” He added that some fields were just heading, while many more were at the flowering stage or even filling kernels.

K-State Research and Extension Wheat and Forages Specialist Romulo Lollato once again reported from the field.

He scouted the central portion of the state as well, and over 14 stops he saw a yield range of 21 to 83 bushels per acre. Much of the lower yield potential due to drought stress and freeze damage was found in counties like Ellis, Ellsworth, and Rush. Over in Barton County, Lollato said he saw fields that had survived the freeze events and were already seeing new tillers develop, but there may be too much stripe rust in parts for that wheat to rebound.

As he went farther south in that region, toward Pawnee, Kiowa or Pratt and Reno counties, there was very good yield potential, but that’s at risk because of heavy presence of stripe rust in some flag leaves and the upper canopy.

“We saw 55 to 76 bushels per acre ranges, with an average of 56 bushels per acre on those stops, so there’s very good yield potential but the stripe rust is becoming a concern,” Lollato said. “We’re really getting past where our fungicide applications can work. Many of those fields are past flowering and we don’t have a window to spray fungicide anymore.” Those fields, he said, can take a pretty big hit in yield potential, in the range of 10% to 20% yield loss depending on the stripe rust severity.

It just goes to show, he added, the importance of genetics in selecting wheat varieties. He reminded growers who are planting stripe rust–resistant genetics to periodically scout those fields to see if the resistance is breaking down in that variety and if they need to apply fungicide to protect their investment.

“Is there yield potential to be protected?” Lollato asked. “Is it only in the lower leaves and not moving to the upper canopy? Is it a tolerant variety? Are the environmental conditions conducive to an application? These are the questions farmers have to ask before applying fungicide.”

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or jlatzke@hpj.com.

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