‘Wheatinar’ offers status of wheat crop across the Plains

Sometimes there can be such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Such is the case with the fall precipitation events that have delayed harvest across much of the Plains and consequently delayed winter wheat planting.

This was the lead topic of conversation during the online Wheatinar, hosted by Oklahoma State University, Nov. 16. The Wheatinar is a webinar conference where wheat Extension experts from Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska have the opportunity to compare crop notes and update farmers who tune in. 

Of the five states participating, Nebraska and Colorado are off to a better start this winter wheat cropping year, simply because of the timing of their precipitation events with fall crop harvest. Meanwhile, states like Kansas and Oklahoma are seeing two, maybe three, different planting dates this fall, based on delaying rain and snow events. Texas farmers are still trying to get their cotton out, let alone get their wheat in. This could prove difficult for farmers to manage the crop through the rest of the season. 


Kansas State University Wheat Extension Specialist Romulo Lollato said he’s toured the state the past couple of weeks and he’s seeing two very different planting dates.

“I would say 55 percent of our crop was planted before Oct. 3, and then there was a very large gap until Oct. 22, where very little planting got done,” he said. “We had 5 to 8 inches of rainfall in Kansas during that period.” 

In western Kansas, Lollato said he’s seeing wheat in the three- to four-tiller stage, looking healthy and in good condition.

“The crop that got planted earlier had a chance to get an excellent stand and canopy and should have just enough tillers to get through winter,” he said. “The late planted wheat, it’s just now poking through the ground. We’re hoping for a couple of warmer weeks to get those tillers out so that it can get some winter hardiness to get through the winter.”

Talking with seed growers, though, many in central Kansas were just unable to get into the field to plant because of soybean harvest delays.

“We thought wheat acres would go up 5 to 10 percent because of the wheat and soybean prices,” he reported. “But we still have some soybeans out there and some may not be harvested. That might mean that we might see a reduction in wheat acres just because we couldn’t get into the field in time.” 


Josh Bushong, Oklahoma State University Northwest Area agronomist, reported that farmers saw some army cutworms and grasshoppers delay planting as well as rain in early September. Like Kansas, Oklahoma wheat farmers are seeing delays because the summer crops are still in the field waiting to get harvested.

“Even at the end of October we still have a lot of cotton, soybeans, sorghum and sesame in the field, and that’s delayed planting and then emergence,” he said. “Some farmers have until the end of November. But there are some that aren’t sure if they will go back to wheat, or use wheat as a cover crop. They may choose to winter fallow and then go back into a summer crop.” This could really affect planted wheat acres.

“We’ll likely see three planting events,” Bushong said. “The really early wheat went in in September, but then it was hit and miss around the October rainfall events. We had some replants from insect damage, washouts and gully washers. Most of the early planted is great, and the later is just now starting to catch up.” 

Heath Sanders, Southwest Oklahoma area agronomist, said farmers around Lawton face the same decisions—with cotton and sesame still in the field, do they chance the cost and plant their wheat later or do they fallow and wait until spring to plant a summer crop?

“If you’re going to plant, we get a lot of questions about seeding rates and you have got to bump them up if you can, to 100 to 120 pounds per acre,” Sanders reminded growers. But, the catch is that there are low seed wheat stocks from last year, and farmers might not even be able to source seed wheat for replants.

Some Oklahoma farmers are starting to graze their wheat, mostly on the wheat that went in very early, as long as it has a good developed root system. Some of that was up to shin-high, Bushong said, before the recent November snowfall. Farmers might want to wait another week to let the ground firm up and let the wheat develop more so that cattle don’t pull up the whole plant while they graze.

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Bob Klein, University of Nebraska Extension cropping systems specialist, reported that North Platte, Nebraska-area farmers have some really good stands, especially in the fields that were fallow after corn or sorghum last year and were planted in a timely manner. Farmers who had to plant later adjusted their seeding rates and compensated with additional starter fertilizer.

Klein ran the budgets for 2019, and projected the cost of production for a bushel of winter wheat in the North Platte area at $4.11 to $5.75, with the Nov. 15 price of wheat in North Platte at $4.46.

“The lowest cost wheat production was irrigated wheat after dry soybean crops,” he said. “The most expensive one was conventional tillage in a wheat-fallow-wheat program.” The biggest increase in production costs for Nebraska growers is going to be fertilizer costs, which could be 20 percent or higher for nitrogen, and 11 percent or higher for phosphorous.

The Nebraska Panhandle has half of all wheat production in Nebraska, said Cody Creech, dryland cropping systems specialist out of Scottsbluff. With its higher elevation, the Nebraska Panhandle plants its winter wheat earlier, around Sept. 5, and thus many were able to beat later September rainstorms, he said.


Sally Jones-Diamond, a research agronomist out of Akron, Colorado, said the northeastern wheat region was very dry in September, Planting was pushed back from Sept. 10 to about the first week of October. A snow event at the end of that first week of October has been the last moisture the region has seen, she reported. The trial plots planted at the end of October are just now putting on their second leaves and thinking about tillering, she added.

Ron Meyer, Colorado State University Extension specialist, Burlington, Colorado, said Kit Carson County has 200,000 acres of wheat, the most in the state. The region has seen nearly perfect growing conditions, with decent moisture to plant into, followed by nice precipitation in October and November. Even better, farmers are seeing the rain events building up the subsoil moisture in their fields, which is sorely needed, he said.


“We are suffering from an overabundance of moisture this fall,” Clark Neely, state small grains specialist for Texas, said. “We went from an exceptionally dry period from May to early September, to Mother Nature flipping the switch.” From the High Plains to the Rolling Plains regions, he said 30 to 50 percent of the wheat acres are actually in the ground, and most of that is for grazing or dual-purpose systems.

“We’re in pretty rough shape in the Blacklands, where we have 10 to 15 percent of our production in the state,” he said. Fortunately, Texas farmers in the Rolling Plains and High Plains have the opportunity to plant into December, he said. 

With the delays, Neely said he’s fielded several questions about planting spring wheat.

“We don’t have to worry about the vernalization issue in Texas,” he said. “We have a tremendous amount of acres of cotton and a lot of those aren’t even out yet. Our wheat acres are based on getting cotton out and the ground worked. There’s a lot of farmers who aren’t even thinking about planting wheat yet because they’re still harvesting cotton harvest.” Neely added that farmers can plant spring wheat in December and into January, but that they should bump up the seeding rate.  

Leaf rust

Some farmers who did manage to get their wheat planted have been concerned over leaf rust. 

Bob Hunger, plant pathologist at OSU, said some susceptible wheat varieties have already shown signs of leaf rust on lower leaves. But the treatment in the fall is either graze the wheat, or wait until a freeze will kill the rust. 

“Grazing will control it by removing the spores, opening up the canopy and allowing it to dry out better,” Hunger said. “Leaf rust will die out with cold temperatures and it can’t infect newer leaves then.” Just be certain that those fields that showed heavy leaf rust in the fall are the first to get scouted in the spring, he warned.

“So, if the inoculum rises up from the field, versus spores blowing in from the South, you can control it earlier in the spring,” he explained.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or [email protected].


View the November wheatinar below.