Wheat is on the mind as winter turns to spring

With the start of spring (March 19), wheat growers know that dormancy will end soon, and the time to apply fertilizer is on the schedule. Scouting for insects will also be on the plate later this spring.

Today’s wheat farmers seek yields of 50 bushels per acre. Last year’s crop was one to forget as drought conditions persisted through fall planting, and anticipated snowfall never appeared. Moisture that did fall in late spring was too late.

Kansas had one of its poorest harvests in 50 years with 208 million bushels, which was well below the benchmark of 330 million bushels. Growers had no choice but to abandon their crop and plant a spring crop while praying for rain. In many cases that strategy paid off, but farmers like wheat in their rotation because it is good for the soil, and with lower input costs it can provide relief from expenses.

A wheat farmer in the High Plains already knows the dilemma. Even with improvements with crop insurance, over the past 30 years, the acreage has declined about 1.9% a year, according to Romulo Lollato, an associate professor of agronomy Extension wheat and forages production specialist at Kansas State University. That translates into an average reduction of 175,000 acres per year.

In 1992, Kansas wheat growers planted about 12 million acres, but by 2022, it had declined to about 7.3 million acres. Meanwhile, farmers have been able to plant dryland corn and soybeans because of genetic improvements that opened new opportunities, Lollato said.

What can reverse the trend? Investment in markets and varieties.

Thirty years ago, the United States was the world’s leader in wheat exports, but now America is No. 4 behind Russia, the European Union and Canada. Australia and Ukraine round out the top six. If something happens to Ukraine, it could propel prices upward, said Gregg Ibendahl, an associate professor in the department of agricultural economics at Kansas State University.

Ibendahl said that even with a disappointing per bushel price, a wheat producer still has an opportunity in the short run to cover his variable costs and plan for the future.

Ibendahl said producers should expect tight margins for the foreseeable future. Lollato and Ibehdahl were speakers at a recent Kansas Wheat Rx, which was a partnership between Kansas Wheat and K-State Research and Extension. The school was an excellent opportunity for growers to learn more about their industry.

In this edition of High Plains Journal and hpj.com, readers are going to read about a classification in which David Murray writes that proponents, most notably Dighton, Kansas, wheat producer Ron Suppes, note a change could reward growers.

Bill Spiegel wrote a story about the development of the KS Bill Snyder wheat variety. While the legendary football coach was the headline grabber, the real story is wheat breeder Guorong Zhang, who developed the variety using the parents from the Hays and Manhattan breeding programs. The news is welcome for High Plains growers who need varieties that have drought tolerance, yield potential, standability and disease resistance.

The KS Bill Snyder variety was developed with funding from Kansas wheat farmers through the wheat checkoff, plus donations to the Kansas Wheat Commission Research Foundation.

Investment in markets and varieties is the best recipe for success. We hope that success continues, and as growers plan beyond 2024 that they will benefit from those who continue to laud wheat’s importance in feeding the world.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].