Wheat Condition in Western Nebraska

Wheat Condition in Western Nebraska

March 28, 2008

Photo of winter wheat greening up in western Nebraska, late March 2008.
Following this year's long, cold winter, winter wheat in western Nebraska is getting a slow start., especially in rainfed fields where moisture may be limited.

Compared to recent years, the winter of 2007-2008 was long and cold. The good news is that the winter started with good snowfall in much of western Nebraska following a mostly dry fall. In the Panhandle, December snows were followed by limited moisture and cold temperatures.

The winter wheat crop in western Nebraska is just beginning to wake from its winter slumber. Unlike many recent winters, the wheat had little opportunity to grow due to sustained cold temperatures. This is generally a good thing, but growers with spotty wheat stands from late seeding or seeding into dry soil are left wondering what will happen with the wheat that has not yet emerged (see Assessing Potential Damage and Estimating Winter Wheat Yields).


Most of the winter wheat in the southern Panhandle started winter in good shape and is expected to come out in good shape. Much of this area had good snowfall in early winter that only recently disappeared. The northern Panhandle had less precipitation than the southern Panhandle last summer and fall, and winter wheat stands were spotty going into the winter. The northern Panhandle also had less winter snowfall, which may cause problems in early spring unless it receives good moisture. Growers will have to wait a while to see if wheat stands in the north thicken up as spring progresses. Wheat that does not emerge until spring will be delayed in development and is more likely to suffer from high temperatures in late June. It also might pose some harvest issues in July.

High wheat prices last fall encouraged many growers to seed wheat back into wheat stubble. Wheat stands in these fields tend to be spottier than wheat seeded into fallow ground, but they may have caught more snow this winter, which may help improve stands. Growers often can get away with two consecutive years of winter wheat, but a third consecutive year usually results in a multitude of weed and disease issues.

Southwest Nebraska

Much of the winter wheat in southwest Nebraska came through the winter in good condition; exceptions include late-seeded wheat and wheat in continuous cropping, especially in rainfed systems. While most of southwest Nebraska experienced good soil water through July 2007, rainfall was limited later in the season and in some areas it was difficult to reach soil water at seeding. Most fallow wheat has good deep soil water, but in some areas top soil water is limited. The deep soil moisture profile resulted from rain, ice and snow which the area started receiving in late December 2006. Good fallow practices conserved this precipitation and rainfall received through the following early summer. Soil water in winter wheat without summer fallow (rainfed continuous cropping) is not adequate in most areas to produce a good wheat yield without significant additional precipitation.

Drew Lyon
Extension Dryland Crops Specialist
Panhandle REC, Scottsbluff
Robert Klein
Extension Crops Specialist
West Central REC

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