Thanks to super-optimum planting conditions and a very long, mild fall, we have some of the best top growth and best-looking wheat stands I have ever seen.
But can you have too much of a good thing?
Clearly, there are some very good things from having the thick, lush top growth. Remember the dust storms from this past spring? From that perspective, we got what the doctor ordered. The ground is very well protected – and in a lot of cases, you can’t even see the ground. It reminds me of what things are supposed to look like in April. But, as former K-State Extension wheat specialist Jim Shroyer points out, “bigger is not better” at this time of the year.
Still, a lot of that wheat did get awfully big – especially in western Kansas. As such, it has put a lot of pressure on surface moisture supplies. And, as we all know, if we have sharp dips in temperatures, the cold will move more easily into dry soils, which can lead to winterkill or injury by damaging the plant crown. If the topsoil were wetter as it is with smaller wheat, that’s less of an issue.
But in either case, what we didn’t want to see was a very sharp transition from very mild growing conditions to much-lower-than-normal temperatures. In looking at fields recently, we have lost a lot of top growth. In many cases, the only living tissue left is the bottom 3 or 4 inches of the plant. Beyond that, the leaves are dead and will eventually turn brown. They’re already dried out.
Shroyer says that, with luck, the wheat had time to become properly hardened off through a gradual reduction in temperature. I’m not betting too big on that, but Jim also says the situation could have been a lot more dangerous if the wheat had been under drought stress or if we had loose, fluffy soils in combination with the severe temperatures.
“That was the case last year, especially in central and south central Kansas,” he says. “Also, having a well-developed secondary root system will help the crown below the soil surface stay alive.”
He adds that losing the top growth isn’t a problem: “There is no yield reduction because of this.”
While Shroyer is concerned about the lush growth in combination with the dramatic drop in temperatures, he says things may work out just fine.
“Let’s hope we get some winter moisture to re-wet the ground and then to have normal cool, but not super-cold, temperatures. What we don’t want to see is dry weather combined with temperatures going from very warm to bitter cold throughout the rest of the winter,” he concludes.
Vance and Louise Ehmke grow certified seed wheat, rye and triticale on their Lane County farm, which was homesteaded in 1885. For more on Ehmke’s pennings, visit www.kansasagland.com.