Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Wheat's Nine Lives

You know the old cliche, "Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day."?

Unless you're planning an outside wedding in Kansas, no one is buying into that sentiment. (And, if you're planning an outside wedding in Kansas in early March, what do you expect anyway?)

We got about 0.80 inches of moisture about a week ago. While we appreciate every drop, it didn't do much to alleviate the drought conditions in the Wheat State.

However, right now, Kansas' wheat farmers are wondering if there will be much of a 2023 crop this summer at all. Tye, who took over our farm ground after last year's harvest, called Randy after touring wheat ground over the weekend. So we went out for our own perusal.

It's not looking good. But Tye is not alone. The National Ag Statistics services released an update on crop conditions for the week ending February 26. The winter wheat condition is rated:

25 percent very poor
26 percent poor
30 percent fair
17 percent good 
2 percent excellent
There is certainly not 2 percent excellent in our part of the state.
It varies from field to field, too. What we call the "home quarter" (directly above) looks better than the 80 acres south of our house (photo earlier in this post).

In our area, we are ranked at in the D3 or extreme drought category. My childhood farm in Pratt County is even worse - ranked in D4 or exceptional drought category, along with most of western Kansas. Only the northeast portion of the state is without drought conditions.

Graphic from Kansas Wheat

The USDA's Ag Statistics says that subsoil moisture supplies are rated 46 percent very short, 32 percent short, 22 percent adequate and 1 percent surplus. 

“You never want to count a wheat crop out; we talk about it being the crop with nine lives,” said Jeanne Falk Jones, a multi-county specialist with K-State’s Northwest Research-Extension center in Colby in a news release from K-State Research and Extension. “But some would say we ran through a few of those lives trying to get to this point in the growing season.”

Much of the Kansas wheat crop was planted last fall in extremely dry conditions, creating variability in wheat stands in the late fall and into this spring. With limited rain and snow fall this winter, those dry conditions haven't changed.

In the past year, precipitation in Kansas was about 10 inches below normal.

At this point, wheat is in a dormant period. Last week's rain did help green up some fields, but time will tell whether it can recover enough to harvest. 

Tye - like most farmers - is trying to weigh the options. Should fertilizer be applied when the outlook looks sparse? If you apply a herbicide, it reduces the options of what you could plant after a crop failure. So, what's the best management decision?

A crystal ball would be helpful in farming. So would some rain. 

Kansas is the nation’s leading wheat producer, known for hard red winter wheat that is used for whole grain white bread and other whole grain products. According to the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the state’s growers harvested 7 million acres with an average yield of 52 bushels per acre in 2021. This accounted for 10.4% of the state’s total agricultural receipts and 22.1% of the nation’s crop.

KDA estimates the direct impact of wheat production in Kansas at $1.3 billion in output and 3,231 jobs.

Weekly crop reports from USDA Ag Statistics begin this week as the countdown begins toward wheat harvest 2023. At least, we hope there's a 2023 wheat harvest.  

Harvest 2022



  1. Replies
    1. We had some chances for moisture last week, but they again passed us by. This week, Thursday looks to be the best chance, but none of us will believe it until we see it in the gauge.