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The good, the bad and the ugly of #WheatTour23

Day 2 headed south and east from Colby to Wichita, Kan., and irrigated wheat looked lush.

Jennifer M. Latzke, Editor

May 18, 2023

4 Min Read
Gary Millershaski, Kansas wheat farmer
MOISTURE PROBE: Gary Millershaski, a Kansas wheat farmer from Kearney County, shows the moisture probe with about 6 inches of subsoil moisture — even after a rain the night before — in this field south of Goodland. He said the crop needs another 4 to 6 inches of subsoil moisture to make a crop, and without that, the first 90-degree-F day could see this wheat turning blue quickly. Photos by Jennifer M. Latzke

On the Red-Pink Route, going through Lakin, Kan., Gary Millershaski pulled his car over to show one of his fields that had just been zeroed out by the crop insurance adjuster two weeks ago.

Day 2 of the Wheat Quality Council’s Hard Winter Wheat Tour saw the calculated potential wheat yield among 276 stops at 27.5 bushels per acre.

Participants were directed to only calculate yield estimates for fields that would have potential to make a crop at harvest, and not calculate for any zeroed out or abandoned fields, like Millershaski’s.

While his wheat went in last fall, it never caught enough moisture to emerge and develop. In fact, when the adjuster came to his field, they dug up not only the un-sprouted wheat seed but also the fertilizer pellet that had been applied with it, he said. But then a week ago, a beneficial rain came through the area and deposited enough moisture for the crop to sprout.

dried-out wheat field in Lakin, Kan.

Millershaski said he’s going to let the wheat grow for a while to keep the soil from blowing, but eventually he’ll apply a burndown herbicide to terminate it so he can fallow the field and build his soil moisture profile for the next crop.

Far-reaching implications

Millershaski said his crop insurance agent told him that Kearney County planted about 45,000 acres of wheat. As of May 17, adjusters had released about 60% of those acres, with the expectation that that figure could go much higher as agents made their way through claims.

That weighs on a community, Millershaski said. From the grain elevator laying off employees due to a lack of work at harvest to the grocery store downtown, crop failures like 2023’s will be felt by more than just farmers.

And to add insult to the injury? Tiny kochia is starting to sprout from that rain event in that field. So if he leaves it unchecked too long, a flush of kochia will drain more water from the soil profile.

Scouting reports’ bright spots

The scouts were able to mainly use the late-season formula provided by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, according to Kansas Wheat. That formula counts wheat heads, number of spikelets and kernels per spikelet.

The calculated estimated potential yields were based on this formula, but many participants across the routes mentioned eyeball estimates of much lower than the formula.

dried-out wheat field in Kansas in May

Kansas Wheat reports the wheat in some areas is so short that combines won’t be able to harvest the crop.

One plus to the drought is only a handful of scouts saw any rust in fields, and western Kansas didn’t have many instances of wheat streak mosaic virus. However, eastern Kansas saw WSMV moving a little farther east than is typical.

There were bright spots, though. Irrigated acres were fairly lush compared to dryland. What really set the good from the bad was the crop management in places.

Oklahoma update

Day 2 takes the Yellow Route down into Oklahoma to scout the crop in the northern counties of the state. Kansas Wheat shared Mike Shulte’s report, who is with the Oklahoma Wheat Commission. He reported the state’s production estimate numbers from the Oklahoma Grain Feed Association:

  • 4.6 million acres planted

  • 2.2 million acres harvested

  • 49.9 million bushels

  • 23 bushels per acre

Shulte reported the four largest wheat-producing counties in Oklahoma are looking very rough and extremely dry. They did not receive enough moisture, and many farmers are cutting their wheat for hay.

The Wheat Tour wraps up May 18 with cars running from Wichita back to Manhattan, Kan. A final production potential yield estimate will be announced in the afternoon.

Source: Kansas Wheat contributed to this article.

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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