Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Old Wives' Tales and Newer Technology


My Grandpa Neelly believed in the Old Farmer's Almanac. While many people might put their stock in old wives' tales, Grandpa paid more attention to what I'll call "old farmers' tales." Since he lived to age 100, he had plenty of time to accumulate such wisdom. (One that has nothing to do with farming seemed to be that Cramer's Analgesic would fix almost any ailment, but I digress.)

My mom, my Great-Grandma Neelly, Grandpa Neelly and me at about 2 months

He planted potatoes on St. Patrick's Day, and he consulted the moon for other planting decisions. We'll again test out one of those old farmers' tales this year: It's said that wheat harvest will be 6 weeks after the wheat heads.

Randy and I scouted wheat fields on May Day and found that the wheat heads were beginning to emerge. Our son-in-law says he's going to give those "old wives" a test and mark June 14 on his calendar.

Eric's response triggered a friendly family wager about the start date for harvest. For posterity, here are the guesses:
Jill, June 13 
Eric, June 14
Randy, June 16, 3:32 PM
Brent, June 17
Susan, June 18
Kim, June 19 (Just like a good mom, I waited 'til last, so I took June 19 by default. With our cool temps this week, I may luck out anyway!)
(I need to figure out a prize for the winner. ... I've got it: A ride on the combine!)

Anyway, we shall see. But the 2021 wheat crop is definitely working its way toward harvest.  

As we checked our fields May 1, Randy was evaluating whether or not to apply a foliar fungicide to the wheat crop. Scouting efforts from across Kansas reported several new occurrences of stripe rust the last week in April.

This shows some rust on the leaf on the righthand side.

Stripe rust is most yield-limiting when it advances to the upper canopy, particularly the flag leaf, according to K-State Research and Extension. In a report issued on April 29, K-State gave a stripe rust risk assessment;

Here we integrate current stripe rust reports, risk due to recent weather conditions (relative humidity and rainfall), and crop growth stage to assess the current risk of severe stripe rust in Kansas (Figure 2). The high-risk regions (dark purple) correspond to regions where weather has been particularly suitable for stripe rust establishment, and where the pathogen has been detected for sufficient time. The risk in other parts of the state may change as the season progresses and as more favorable weather events accumulate.
K-State Extension report, April 29, 2021
Figure 2. Estimated risk of severe stripe rust as of April 29, 2021. Map takes into account the current wheat growth stage, stripe rust observations, and recent weather conditions. Map created by Kelsey Andersen Onofre, K-State Research and Extension.
Figure 2. Estimated risk of severe stripe rust as of April 29, 2021. Map takes into account the current wheat growth stage, stripe rust observations, and recent weather conditions. Map created by Kelsey Andersen Onofre, K-State Research and Extension.
The decision to apply a fungicide should be balanced with the yield potential of the crop, variety disease rating and current grain price, according to K-State. Fields with the potential to yield greater than 40 bushels per acre should be prioritized for a fungicide application.
Randy decided that it is cost-effective to spray with a fungicide this year. He says that the application cost is about $9/acre. If we get a "bump" of even 2 more bushels per acre, the fungicide will pay for itself.  
In several years of field trials at Kansas State University, the application of fungicides between the flag leaf and flowering stages of wheat development resulted in a yield boost of 4 to 14 percent.

It's kind of a calculated risk: Will the cost of the fungicide pay off with a better crop? Only time will tell.
A foliar fungicide application will not make a 40-bushel crop into a 60-bushel crop, but it will prevent a 60-bushel crop from being reduced to a 40-bushel crop by foliar disease.
Bob Hunger, an Oklahoma State University wheat disease specialist,
and Jeff Edwards, an OSU Extension wheat specialist

So, is your bag of flour safe after farmers spray fungicide on the developing crop? Yes, as long as farmers follow the restrictions on when to apply it and how long after the application the crop is harvested.

Believe me, farmers and their families want a safe and affordable food supply, too. We buy bags of flour at the store. We buy that loaf of wheat bread and feed it to our families.

We went to one of our fields and talked with Joey, who operates one of the Kanza Co-op applicators. He was waiting for the tender truck driver to return with more water for the sprayer. 

In scare tactic memes and articles, I read about "evil farmers" dousing the food source with tons of chemicals. But here's the reality.

Only 4 OUNCES of active chemical is applied per acre. That is 1/2 cup per acre. The bulk of what is being sprayed is water. 

The two 2.5 gallon jugs of active chemical (Tebuzol Fungicide) that Joey put in his rig were combined with 1,400 gallons of water from this tank. 

The tender truck driver attached a hose to the spray rig to transfer the water.

Once the water and chemical are in the tank, the rig operator can adjust the spray nozzles for the various chemicals being applied. For Tebuzol, he'll spray 140 acres with that load (5 gallons chemical in 1,400 gallons water) with 10 gallons of the water/chemical mix applied per acre.

Then there was no more time for chit-chat. (Thanks to Joey for answering all my questions while he waited though!)

He climbed into the rig and spread out the 120-foot boom, kind of looking like the Transformers that Brent loved in elementary school. It's quite a wingspan when fully unfolded!

The rig is equipped with GPS, which Joey uses to make sure he's not overlapping where he's spraying the field. 

These photos were taken looking into the sun, but it did show the stream of liquid being applied.

And, below, a different angle - as Joey traveled west

There is a withdrawal time between the time a crop is sprayed and the time it is harvested. (In this particular case, it's 30 days.) As long as that is observed, the wheat will have benefited from the fungicide application, but there will be no residue in the mature grain.

We did another scouting trip yesterday afternoon.

May 10, 2021

The wheat is more fully headed out and is looking good after 0.60" of rain last week. We won't turn down a little more, and we do have chances for rain for much of the week.

May 10, 2021

The wheat is also pollinating: See the little yellow flecks on the wheat head? That's pollen. Having the cool weather for pollination is also good news.

There is still a lot of time - and uncertainty - between now and harvest. 


Weather, hail and disease could conspire against us, too. But, as usual, my farmer is a glass-half-full kind of guy. So, he's betting that the investment will pay off.  


  1. Interesting that Randy has given an afternoon time for the start of harvest!
    Nice simple explanations of the process of spraying. Thinking back over the farms history, and looking at the vastness of the fields, I wonder how much was tilled in the early days, without modern technology? ie GPS for exact spraying.

  2. Sometimes we have dew, etc., in the mornings and there's always more moisture until the sun and wind have a chance to dry things out. It will be interesting to see who "wins."