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Is Kansas Still the Wheat State?Is Kansas Still the Wheat State?

For the first time in history, Kansas will be planting more corn and soybeans than wheat.

Tanner Ehmke 1

April 7, 2010

4 Min Read

Last week's USDA Prospective Plantings report brought some big news. Soybean seedings will be record large at 78.1 million acres, and corn acreage will be the second largest on record at 88.8 million.

Buried in the report was a painful bit of news for wheat farmers, especially for those of us here in Kansas. USDA put corn seedings in the state at 4.7 million acres and soybeans seedings at 4.1 million – both big increases over last year.

Combined, that comes to 8.8 million acres of corn and beans in Kansas.

To those of you who farm outside the Kaw, those numbers might not mean much. But for those of us in the wheat state, the worst of all prophesies has come true: Kansas has now become a corn and bean state…just like everyone else.

For the first time in history, Kansas will be planting more corn and soybeans than it does wheat, which is figured at only 8.6 million acres. Not long ago, Kansas was planting more than 10 million acres to wheat, but that number has been slowly whittled away over the years.  

Following a trend That's been the trend all over the U.S. for a long time. Remembering back to better days, wheat once was the number one crop here in the U.S. The U.S. planted more than 88 million acres to wheat nearly 30 years ago. In 2010, there will only be 53.8 million. That's a loss of more than 1 million acres per year.

To be sure, last fall was a nightmare that scared away a lot of wheat acres. If it wasn't raining, it was drizzling. And if it wasn't drizzling, it was cold, damp and foggy, and planting progress never seemed to budge.

So if you couldn't plant winter wheat last fall, planting more sorghum in the spring was an option. This year that doesn't seem to be the case, either. USDA sees U.S. sorghum acres also falling in 2010 as corn and soybeans make their way into more rotations while acreage in Kansas, the number one sorghum producer, holds steady.

The switch to corn and beans in Kansas doesn't look to be slowing anytime soon. When drought-tolerant corn hits the market, the Corn Belt is going to push even deeper into wheat country and devour even more acres. The biggest losses likely will occur in central Kansas, according to one K-State ag economist, where there are lots of dryland wheat and milo acres and decent annual precipitation of 25-30 inches.   

The hopes for drought-tolerant corn are so high, one corn producer whose family farms 10,000 acres in central Illinois and markets more than 2 million bushels every year told me they were buying land in western Kansas. Their reasoning? It's where land is cheap, and where drought-tolerant corn would perform.

So much for the High Plains being the last strong-hold for wheat in the U.S.

So what happened to wheat all these years? The crop simply hasn't benefited from the advancements in GMO technology like corn and beans have. The resulting boost in yields directly results in a boost in profits. Who wants to plant 40-bushel wheat when you can get 150-bushel corn?

But with Monsanto, BASF, Dow AgroSciences, Syngenta and a handful of others investing in GMO wheat now, wheat in Kansas might finally be staging a comeback. Hopefully it comes in time before we have to change our slogan to "Kansas – Just Another Corn & Bean State."

About the Author(s)

Tanner Ehmke 1

Staff writer

Tanner Ehmke is a writer and agricultural producer in Lane County, Kansas, where his family has farmed since 1886. Located in the semi-arid High Plains of western Kansas, he grows dryland wheat, rye, triticale and grain sorghum in reduced-till and no-till systems. Tanner graduated from Kansas State University’s Master of Agribusiness program in 2011 after completing his thesis on seed wheat prices, and is currently in the Kansas Agriculture and Rural Leadership program’s Class XI.

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