Ag Instructor Vic Martin: 'There Ought to be a Law'

Great Bend Tribune
Published May 14, 2017

Before starting today’s column, a very Happy Mothers’ Day to every mother reading this.  Secondly, the area is in full graduation mode so congratulations to all those graduating from high school and college.  Barton Community College’s ceremony was this past Friday up on the hill with ceremonies soon to come at Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth.  Good luck in your future endeavors.

If you have paid attention to print, broadcast, and social media, it is hard to miss all the discussion about wheat in Western Kansas.  The primary story concerns the effects of the snow and cold on the 2017 wheat crop.  But another story which would have made even bigger headlines without the weather is the severe infestation of wheat streak mosaic virus which promised to significantly impact wheat yields.  If you are interested in the perspective of a small grains producer on this problem, please go to the KWCH or KSN websites and watch reports with Vance Ehmke, a producer near Healy.  The problem has been discussed at length.  Here let’s focus on prevention.

This disease is transmitted by the wheat curl mite, a microscopic arachnid.  As it feeds on foliage it picks up the disease and when it moves to a new plant it transmits the infection to that plant.  A mosquito transmitting malaria is a good analogy.  Due to its small size the mite is easily picked up and transported by wind up to several miles where it lands on newly emerged wheat, feeds and in doing so transmits the disease.  Chemical control has not been proven effective and there are not a lot of wheat varieties with much resistance.  However, the way to minimize infections is simple and practical – eliminate volunteer wheat within two or so miles of a field a minimum of two weeks before planting.  Volunteer wheat is simply the wheat that didn’t make it into the combine at harvest and sprouts when conditions are favorable.  All wheat fields have the potential for volunteer wheat.  The extent is a function of weather.  Control may be mechanical, chemical, or a combination.  There are many reasons volunteer wheat is more problematic today than in the past.  The point here is what can be done.

As a producer, you can control volunteer wheat on your fields and still suffer a devastating infection if you neighbor across the road doesn’t.  Many have stated K-State Extension needs to step up its education efforts.  If you attend K-State programs or read their materials, they are constantly promoting the need for volunteer wheat control.  There are other options that have been proposed.  One is that legislation be passed to fine and force producers to control volunteer wheat.  Another, is that volunteer wheat be classified as a noxious weeds and allow County Weed Departments to become involved.  This column won’t make a recommendation but rather pose a question.

A major debate in rural America, and in agriculture specifically, involves rules and regulations and the level of government involvement in solving problems.  More basically, what are our responsibilities to our neighbors when what we do or don’t do impacts them?  This is more than just volunteer wheat and involves ground and surface waters, soil erosion, chemical application and so on.  In an ideal world, everyone would do what is right as a member of the farming community.  We see examples of this when everyone comes together to help a neighbor or even an entire area, think the fires this spring.  Since we don’t live in an ideal world, how do we balance individual liberties with being a responsible member of the community?  And how do we address those who refuse to be responsible?  

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