College News

Ag Instructor Vic Martin: Gambling with the 2023 Wheat Crop

Great Bend Tribune
Published October 9, 2022

The drought monitor report as of Tuesday, October 4, indicates almost all of our area still in extreme drought.  Exceptional drought is enveloping most of Southeast Kansas and moving into South Central Kansas along with a good portion of Southwest and moving in Northwest Kansas.  The six to ten-day outlook (October 11 to 15) indicates near normal temperatures and 40 to 50% chance of above normal precipitation.  Normal isn’t much but at least we should have seasonal temperatures.  The eight to fourteen-day outlook (October 13 to 19) indicates continued near normal temperatures and precipitation. 

Before discussing the 2023 wheat crop gamble, let’s take a peek at the long-range forecast.  Through December the outlook is for a 40 50% chance of below normal precipitation and temperatures.  We would normally expect around two to at most three inches of liquid precipitation from November 1 to December 31.  Believe it or not the precipitation and temperature outlook have improved to equal chances of above or below.  Better than the earlier forecast but remember liquid precipitation equivalent for those three months is only around four to five inches total.  April through June have also improved to a 50/50 chance for both.  So why review these facts?

First, wheat is being planted in our area and has been for a while.  With the rains of the week before, it’s even coming up.  The problem?  We are in extreme drought conditions.  Bluntly, the recent rain did provide for some topsoil moisture, likely enough to help wheat emerge unless the ground was tilled to death.  However, for that wheat to establish a root system and tiller in addition to preparing for winter dormancy, it will have trouble making it through the winter.  There simply isn’t mush if any subsoil soil moisture in most area soils to help.  The exceptions are irrigated fields and fields that were fallowed.  Other factors need to be considered here:

  • Dry soils cool faster and leave plants more susceptible to winterkill.  Drier, stressed plants are also more susceptible.  Compounding the risk is if the wheat doesn’t tiller out and establish decent crown growth, that further endangers the growing point.
  • Hopefully, wheat makes it through the winter, however, unless the moisture increases significantly, we will have fewer tillers and likely below average yields.
  • Input costs have come down a bit and wheat prices are decent.  Producers can back off some costs like seed and fertilizer based on below average yields, especially preplant and starter fertilizer.  They can always top dress nitrogen if conditions improve or back off in the spring if they don’t.  And if conditions don’t improve, the price for wheat should increase for those with a crop.  It’s probably not the best year to lock in prices.
  • One caveat for those planting wheat is to not apply any herbicide or do anything else that would prevent the field from being planted to a spring row crop if the wheat crop fails.

One last note that involves more than farmers.  This impacts more than producers.  It affects those providing ag services, elevators, and you the consumer.  Here’s hoping the weather outlooks are wrong.