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2015 Wheat Crop Hit By Just About Everything
Kansas Ag Connection - 07/06/2015

As combines roll across Kansas, phrases like "miracle wheat," "pleasantly surprised" and "exceeded expectations" pop up daily in harvest reports along with scattered stories of other fields struck down by hail, decimated by disease or starve d by drought. Mary Knapp, climatologist with Kansas State University, explained that this year's wheat crop weathered drought, freeze, temperature swings, heavy rain and disease - making above-projected yields in some areas of the state a slight shocker for farmers and analysts alike.

"This wheat crop has just been hit by everything," Knapp said. "Well, not a wildfire."

This fall started with persistent dry conditions across the state. A delayed fall crops harvest set planting back even further.

"Our wheat just did not have a chance from the beginning," said Ruthann Spare, who farms near Ellinwood, Kansas, explaining that corn harvest delayed wheat planting even further into dry conditions, resulting in very short growth.

Then, over Veterans Day weekend in November, Knapp explained that temperatures sank into the teens, causing some of the wheat crop to enter dormancy without sufficient root development. Jim Shroyer, K-State Research and Extension crop production specialist, explained in November that the cold weather affected both wheat with excessive topgrowth and wheat that showed drought-stressed symptoms.

Winter brought a roller coaster of warm and cold spells, according to Knapp, and dry soil continued to limit development in many areas. Then, in late April, freezing temperatures hit the state, particular in south central Kansas. Knapp explained that while these freezes were not particularly cold, the wheat crop was flowering and particularly vulnerable.

But, then the rain started to fall. And, in May, just as the grain was filling, farmers across the state saw heavy rains. Knapp attributed the rains in part to moisture opening up from the Gulf of Mexico mixing with cold fronts moving across the state that "opened a fire hose pointed north."According to the Kansas Weather Data Library, Kansas received 188 percent more moisture than normal in May, averaging 7.73 inches statewide. By the end of May, the U.S. Drought Monitor listed just 6 percent of Kansas in moderate drought and 67 percent of the state as drought-free.

However, wet soil, Knapp explained, helped create the right climatic conditions for thunderstorms to build and stay over a small geographic area. She added that these types of weather patterns are also conducive to creating hail, which severely damaged wheat in western Kansas, particularly in Kearney, Finney and Haskell counties.

Rain also brought disease - stripe rust, leaf rust and scab. On the annual Hard Red Winter Wheat Tour, Aaron Harries, Kansas Wheat vice president for operations and research, reported seeing stripe rust "in nearly every field we visited."

But, despite the weather and its related effects, the wheat continued to fill and the combines started to roll - later and slower than normal but with better end results than in previous years for many farmers.

On May 7, the 2015 Hard Red Winter Wheat Tour projected a state-wide average of 48.9 bushels per acre and a total estimated 288.5 million bushels. In its June report, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service upped their forecast to 314.5 million bushels in production - a 28 percent increase from the last year's drought-plagued crop.

Only time will tell what the final numbers for the Kansas wheat harvest will be. But, for now, farmers statewide are working to get their wheat out of the field and into the bin before Mother Nature strikes again.

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