As more seasonal fall temperatures are in the forecast, it is time to start planting wheat. As planting kicks off, producers and researchers alike are cautiously optimistic about next year’s harvest potential.
Winter wheat planting in Kansas was at four percent complete for the week ending September 10, 2023, according to the official statistics provided by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service in its weekly crop progress report. That pace is near three percent for last year and the five-year average - a welcome return to a more normal-feeling pace for producers.
“We were behind all year last,” said Brian Linin, Kansas Wheat Commissioner who farms near Goodland. “Planting season was way behind, and then everything came up. Harvest was really late, so we were starting harvest around the time we would have normally finished. So, we feel like we’ve been behind the eight ball here all spring and summer.”
Linin started planting wheat on Tuesday in northwest Kansas. His ground received just a few hundredths to a short quarter inch of rain over the past week, but he reported even where the ground is dry on top, there is moisture further down. Moisture - received or expected - impacts where and when producers will start to plant wheat, with some waiting for that September shower and others willing to “dust it in” if there’s the potential for rain in the forecast.
Having that moisture available to get the wheat stand established is critical to the success of next year’s harvest, according to Brian Olson, head of K-State’s Western Kansas Research-Extension Centers.
“Hopefully, there's enough there to get it up and get it going,” Olson said. “The last few years that has been a big problem - getting that establishing rain in the fall. And now we’ve got it in some areas, so farmers will hopefully capitalize on it.”
In addition to timing with moisture, producers also need to control volunteer wheat and weeds to prevent yield loss and disease, which will be especially important this year after failed fields and late summer rains that brought on substantial weed issues and late flushes of volunteer wheat.
“That canopy was open, and then the rains came on, and now we've had some weed issues out there - and that is a challenge,” Olson said. “We do have to stay on top of those weeds because they're just robbing the moisture.”
Olson pointed to research being conducted by K-State at Tribune, Garden City and Hays on the benefits and tradeoffs of occasional tillage, about one pass every three or four years to try and control problematic weeds.
Linin noted his operation has had to make many adjustments during the last three years of drought, explaining they mixed up their management practices to include light tillage, chemical applications, and other practices to address different concerns in different fields. He also has been growing organic wheat, meaning he must think even more creatively about addressing those concerns. In turn, however, those solutions bring management ideas back to the conventional side of his farm.
“In some respects, I’d like to have our ground a little cleaner than it is - there are some of those annual weeds up out there, just real spotty, and I don’t like the way that looks,” Linin said. “We’ve got fields of all different stages, but we’re ready to go.”
Managing wheat fields for weeds and disease benefits not only next year’s yields, but also the other crops in the rotation.
“Wheat is a foundation for farmers to plant their summer crops into,” Olson said. “I'm a firm believer that wheat is the basis, and when we got good wheat residue out there, we have a good chance of raising the summer crop that next year.”
That rings true for Linin’s operation in northwest Kansas, who also noted wheat’s value in an overall crop rotation.
“There’s a lot of time between now and when we make a crop, but wheat is one of our most profitable crops,” Linin said. “It’s profitable not just in terms of dollars and cents, but also in terms of providing a good seedbed for whatever we’re going to do next year.”
Overall, as Linin and fellow Kansas wheat producers fire up their tractors to plant wheat, he is excited and optimistic about the upcoming growing season.
“I just hope everybody has good conditions and gets a good stand and a good start to this year’s crop,” Linin said. “Wheat is a good crop for us, and it really fits our rotation in our program well - and I wish the best of luck to everybody else.”
For the latest in K-State’s planting recommendations during the current year’s conditions, visit eupdate.agronomy.ksu.edu/. Producers can also access the latest resources for variety selection and performance data information from K-State at kswheat.com/wheatrx.
Written by Julia Debes for Kansas Wheat