Nebraska Winter Wheat Appreciates Moisture, Despite Lows - UNL CropWatch, April 17, 2013

Nebraska Winter Wheat Appreciates Moisture, Despite Lows - UNL CropWatch, April 17, 2013

Wheat field east of Trenton

Figure 1. Recent rains brought much needed moisture for the state's winter wheat crop, such as in this field east of Trenton in southwest Nebraska. (Photo by Robert Klein

April 17, 2013

Soil water down 43 inches north of McCook

Figure 2. Soil water was available down to 43 inches in this field that was fallowed last year just north of McCook this week, but that was the exception. In most fallowed fields soil water extends down 20-30 inches. (Photo by Robert Klein)

Crop Condition

According to the April 15 USDA Nebraska Crops Report Nebraska wheat condition was rated 17% very poor, 33% poor, 38% fair, 12% good, and 0% excellent. Three percent of the wheat crop had jointed, behind last year’s 34% and the long-term average of 10%.

Last week’s blizzard across the Panhandle and north central Nebraska brought bone-chilling temperatures dipping to the teens and even below 0, but it appears not to have caused widespread damage to the state’s wheat crop. Most of the crop was in the tillering stage and less susceptible to freeze damage than it would be at a later stage (see Assessing Freeze Damage to Winter Wheat). The lack of soil water in many areas, winter wheat health, and poor stands are more pressing concerns for producers at this time.

Winter wheat is still emerging in some areas that were too dry last fall for germination to occur. Noel Mues, extension educator in Furnas County, estimated that only 20-25% of the winter wheat germinated and emerged last fall in Furnas County. Several other counties had similar results. In some areas where winter wheat did not germinate due to dry soil, there was enough snow over the winter to provide for wheat to germinate and establish this spring. Some areas have stands that are less than desired, but in most situations, the producer will be ahead to take the field to harvest. With the less competitive stand, weed management will be an issue.

winter wheat 1

Figures 3 (above) and 4 (below) show winter wheat in Cheyenne County in the Panhandle. Due to dry soil conditions, wheat germination was delayed or didn't occur in some fields, leading to inconsistent stands. Figure 4 shows some leaf burn from recent freezing temperatures. Plant recovery is expected at this stage. (Photos by Dipak Santra)

Winter wheat 2

Wheat condition varies across the state, largely due to whether soil water was available last fall and winter. Many winter wheat fields still lack a good profile of soil water. A survey of fields on Friday (April 12) found that in many fields that were fallowed last year, soil water was only available in the top 20 inches. A field in western Keith County had moisture below 4 feet (the depth of the probe), but it was not typical of the area.

Wheat Reports from Across the State

Following are comments from extension educators on the winter wheat crop in their area:

Paul Hay, Gage County, April 11: Our wheat wintered well and is in the tillering stage, but will quickly move to jointing when this cold rainy weather cycle passes. Fields look good with good stands and good health. We have a few more wheat acres in southeast Nebraska than in recent years for several reasons. We had an early harvest and time to plant wheat in the fall; however, dry conditions and limited pastures have led to wheat being grazed as a forage or cut or hay. These fields may be double-cropped with soybeans or sunflower planted this spring.

Noel Mues, extension educator in Furnas County, April 10: On average only 20-25% of our wheat germinated last fall due to the dry soil conditions. I realize that more of the wheat germinated recently as a result of about 8 inches of snow last December 19 and another 12 inches, or so, on February 20-21. The only place I’m seeing a decent stand is under center pivots where it was watered up last fall. In the recent storm, we received right at 2 inches of rain in and around Arapahoe on Monday night, April 8. The south and southeast portions of the county received far less moisture than the area around Arapahoe. The Beaver City area received only about 0.30 inch and right at 0.40 inch at the wheat variety plot four miles west of Beaver City. There have been reports of 1-1.5 inches in the southwest part of Furnas County (Wilsonville area) and the same in the Cambridge area. As taken from the Nebraska Rainfall Assessment and Information Network, the area surrounding Beaver City has received approximately 9.5 inches of precipitation since May 1, 2012 which leaves a deficit of about 12.5 inches for the year.

Doug Anderson, extension educator in Keith, Arthur, and Perkins counties, April 10: Winter wheat does not look good.

Karen DeBoer, extension educator in Cheyenne County, April 15: Recent moisture will be very helpful to a crop that was just starting to green up and grow. We received good rain and then he drifting snow. The cold temperatures and ice that accompanied the storm will likely turn leaves brown, but the wheat should recover, given it is in the tillering stage and didn’t have much growth yet. The biggest problem from last fall was that it was dry and much of the seed either didn’t germinate, germinated and didn’t grow, or rotted in the soil, leaving some producers with a poor stand. Where plants developed, root development was stunted from the dry conditions. Hopefully, the wheat will recover with the recent moisture, produce more tillers, and grow as it should once the temperatures warm up. The wheat is behind since it normally would be jointing by mid-late April.

Winter wheat in Hall County, 4-16-13 Winter wheat head split open to show growth stage
Figure 5. Splitting the head of a winter wheat plant (left) can help determine growth stage. This plant (right) was still in the tillering stage and had not yet started to joint. (Photos by Mark Hinze)

Dipak Santra, extension alternative crops specialist, Panhandle REC, April 16: After the recent precipitation wheat in the Panhandle District looks better. There are fields on hill sides where stands look very poor due to poor germination last fall. Although the recent cold spell will delay growth, the moisture associated with it will ultimately increase yield. There is no sign of winter injury because of this cold, mainly due to good moisture in the soil now. It is expected that fields with decent stands will produce good yield.

Mark Hinze, extension educator in Hall County, April 16: When the storms hit last week, winter wheat in this area was in the tillering stage of development and had yet to enter into jointing stages. This was fortunate for the wheat as well as some rye that was planted north of Grand Island. One farmer applied his dry fertilizer on his wheat while the snow/ice was still covering his 150-acre, pivot-irrigated field. We thought there would not be as much wheel traffic damage to his crop if fertilizer were applied while the surface was still temporarily frozen.

Robert Klein
Extension Western Nebraska Crops Specialist, West Central REC


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