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Variable Weather Poses Challenges and Opportunities for U.S. HRW Farmers

By Claire Hutchins
It is no secret U.S. hard red winter (HRW) wheat farmers have struggled through a difficult planting season. Many industry sources believe total U.S. winter wheat planted area will fall year-over-year due to depressed local prices and challenging planting conditions. In the Southern Plains, moderate to extreme drought and frigid temperatures have challenged early crop establishment. In the Northern Plains, near-record precipitation and miserably cold weather delayed planting and continue to hamper early crop development.
When U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) reached out to the industry, however, the experts expressed some familiar optimism about next year’s crop, despite challenges in the field.
Too cold, too dry. Southwest Kansas and parts of Colorado and Oklahoma are bone-dry and cold.
“Some of the crop that was planted emerged then shriveled, and some of the crop planted in dry soil is behind on emergence. At this rate we won’t have a lot of fall tillering and the winter wheat won’t be as hardy through the winter,” says Dr. Romulo Lollato, Assistant Professor of Agronomy, Wheat and Forage Extension Specialist at Kansas State University.
This could impact wheat survival and yield as temperatures begin to drop. A lower water profile in Western Kansas following this year’s corn harvest will lead to decreased winter wheat planted area, according to Lollato. However, in central Kansas, there was enough soil moisture to support the winter wheat planted around or before the optimal planting dates.
“I’d say about 30 percent of the state’s wheat is in rough shape due to extreme dryness, 10 to15 percent is in good shape and the rest could go either way,” says Lollato.
Producers in southeastern Colorado are facing the same challenge as producers in western Kansas. Planted area could decrease slightly below last year’s 2.15 million acres (0.85 million hectares) due to moderate drought and depressed commodity prices. The HRW planted area in northeastern Colorado is also expected to be slightly down compared to last year, according to Brad Erker, Executive Director of the Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee, due to prices, some movement to spring crops and pressure on acres from the wheat stem sawfly.  Most of the winter wheat in the northeastern part of the state is emerged thanks to decent soil moisture levels at planting.
It is also extremely dry and cold in the western part of Oklahoma, which hinders HRW growth and development.
“But early dryness, paired with anticipated precipitation, could actually lead to stronger root development in the long run. And long term, it could be a mild winter which would help the crop,” says Mike Schulte, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission.
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