COLBY, Kan. (DTN) -- It is called the "winter" wheat tour after all. However, the Kansas weather took the title a bit too seriously this year. Over the weekend of April 29 to May 1, anywhere from 1 to more than 21 inches of snowfall covered the majority of western Kansas, an area covering roughly 40% of the wheat acreage in the state.
Crop scouts on the first day of the Wheat Quality Council's Hard Red Winter Wheat Tour saw the aftermath of the unique set of circumstances as they left Manhattan early Tuesday morning, May 2, and worked their way east to west across the state, ending in Colby. The average yield for the day between 18 routes and 222 stops was 43 bushels per acre (bpa), compared to 47.1 bpa over the same region in 2016.
Early in the day, scouts found some excellent stands of wheat that seemed to have suffered only minimally from the cold weather. The highest yields were recorded at 96 bpa. Several fields were estimated above 70 bpa. Aerial applications of fungicides were being applied in some fields near Chapman, Kansas -- indicating growers were doing what they can to preserve yield.
However, more variable stands were evident as cars made their way into central Kansas. There was also evidence of freeze events that happened prior to the weekend blizzard and some severe hail damage was reported. Scouts slogged through mud in most areas, but it was clear that drought during seeding and into spring had resulted in some spotty stands.
Scouts reported a smattering of diseases and detected some pressure from aphids, but beneficial lady beetles were noted in greater numbers than normal -- a good sign for natural control.
Scouts reported that more than half the wheat they saw on the first day was in the boot stages and 39% was headed.
As they headed farther west, scouts finally ran into snow. The heavy weight of the snow pushed the wheat down to form heavy mats of stalks. "The million dollar question is can the wheat recover," said Kansas State University agronomist Jeanne Falk Jones. "The answer is, we don't know yet. We need to be patient."
While Jones acknowledged that many want answers now, the general agreement is it will take another 10 to 14 days before damage will be known. She noted that spring freezes aren't abnormal, but they do not generally last as long as this event. "The temperatures weren't as low, but they went on for a long time," she said. She added that there's not a good reference point for the amount of snow received and whether it might have actually served as a blanket of protection for the wheat. "We are really learning on the go with this one."
If the stems aren't broken, the wheat could possibly recover, Kansas State agronomists said. "Wheat is a very dynamic crop. If we lose some tillers on the crop, the plant can allocate its resources to some other tillers. It has the ability to move around nutrients within the plant. So we may see some of those smaller tillers get more resources allocated to them," Jones said. She added that some of the smaller heads might fill out more if other heads are lost.
"Wheat is a survivor kind of crop," she said. Some scouts saw wheat that seemed to be trying to recover slightly and work the kinks out, but there was also concern that this lodged crop could be more prone to disease. Forecasts are for warmer weather this weekend and that may start to reveal more answers.
David Schemm, Sharon Springs, Kansas, told the scouts that as of Tuesday morning, much of his wheat crop was weighted down with approximately 8 inches of snow. He said wheat that had righted itself suffered windburn from the 55 to 60 mph winds that tore through his home area on Sunday morning.
Digging into the downed wheat to see what's happening is difficult, Schemm said. He's worried about nutrients being able to move up into the head if the stem has become kinked and questions whether berry fill will occur and what that will mean for quality issues.
The tour continues through May 4, heading from Colby to Wichita. Follow DTN reporter Pamela Smith on Twitter @PamSmithDTN and #wheattour17.
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.Smith@dtn.com
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