Test plot mirrors county fields: short and sparse

Staff writer

About 40 farmers turned out for a free breakfast and a tour of Kansas State Research and Extension’s test field Thursday.

Farmers came from all over the county, but all noticed one thing: fields were shorter and sparser than average no matter what variety of seed was planted.

Across the test plot, varieties were nearly half the average height, but what made the field truly poor was the distance between plants down rows.

“If you can see down the rows, then that’s a bad sign because typically you can’t,” Lyman Adams, general manager of Cooperative Grain and Supply in Hillsboro said.

The size of the wheat heads is also noticeably shorter, with some of the pods seedless. This and the lack of plants that sprouted will combine to create one of the poorest years since K-State Extension began recording wheat yields in the 1860s, extension agent Doug Shoup said.

He presented the 16 different varieties of seed planted in the test plot to farmers.

“Some of the varieties produce smaller plants in general, but they shouldn’t be this short,” he said. “The plants aren’t going to grow anymore, but if we get more rain it will help the heads fill out.”

Kernel size will also depend on moisture received, he said. If no more rain falls on Marion County fields, farmers can expect to see small dehydrated kernels. Shoup estimates the heads to be half or a third smaller than average and expects the test plot to produce poor yields around 10 to 15 bushel.

“We’re seeing about 20 seeds per head and usually average around 30,” he said.

Unlike corn that doesn’t need much water in its current seedling state, wheat needs moisture desperately at this time. However, while things look dire, wheat could still produce above expectations, Shoup said.

“It could surprise us, which I’d like to see,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of good years, and this will bring us to about average.”

One farmer from southwest of Hillsboro talked about a fellow farmer in Oklahoma whose fields would soon lay over due to lack of moisture.

“The stems about half way up are brown because the head is sucking what moisture there is out of the plant,” he said. “It can’t survive long like that.”

A late season frost last week in western Kansas also hurt many fields.

He is still optimistic about harvesting an average crop of about 20 bushels per acre, and said he feels fortunate for what he’s got, despite it being only average.

“We go from our best year ever to our worst,” Randy Eitzen said. “Usually you can at least count on wheat doing OK year after year, but this year you can’t.”

Similar phrases were shared by other farmers in attendance, the majority of whose crops mirrored the state of the test plot. Some are even giving up on wheat and turning their hopes to other crops.

“Hopefully corn will be better,” Eitzen said.

Farmers agreed the rain was a lifesaver, falling just in time to help the wheat produce even a few seeds.

“If we got even one more good rain, it would help the wheat heads fill out,” Brian Nickel, Hillsboro farmer and Cooperative Grain and Supply employee, said.

He said there is a noticeable difference in fields across the county with fields north and west fairing the worse.

“Rain has been so sporadic,” he said. “You don’t have to go far to find worse.”

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