Archive for Wednesday, February 6, 2002

Drought damages winter wheat

As much as 32 percent of crop still in poor to very poor condition

February 6, 2002


— Recent snowfalls have brought needed moisture to winter wheat fields in Kansas, but the prolonged drought so stressed the crop that as much as 32 percent of it remains in poor to very poor condition, Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service said Monday.

The agency said in its crop weather report that another 41 percent of the wheat was in fair shape, with 27 percent in good to excellent condition.

"That looks pretty depressing," Bob Bowden, plant pathologist at Kansas State University, said of the crop update.

Moderate temperatures and dry conditions continued during most of January. Snow, sleet or freezing rain was received last week in most areas, with snowfall amounts of 6 inches or more in the northern tier of the state.

While that helped, wheat remains drought-stressed with poorly developed root systems.

"A lot of wheat came up OK, but then the soil got very dry and it didn't get a chance to establish a root system before winter," Bowden said. "It is under a lot of stress right now."

Damage from wind is reported to be light on 22 percent of the acreage and moderate to severe on 9 percent, KASS said.

Freeze damage has been light so far, with this latest report showing 7 percent of the acreage has moderate freeze damage and 25 percent light damage.

But what worries plant pathologists like Bowden is that the long, warm fall without rain made conditions ripe for the spread of barley yellow dwarf virus.

The virus, which also affects wheat, has already been found in some of their tests, Bowden said. The virus can take as much as one-third of the crop's yield potential.

"Even if we do get the rains, I am not sure that is going to allow us to fully recover from the kind of weather we have had in this cropping year," Bowden said.

Also troubling to Bowden and he is the first to admit that as a plant pathologist he is a little pessimistic is the incidences of leaf rust and stripped rust this winter in Texas.

Spores can blow in the wind to Kansas, which saw its first ever stripped rust epidemic last year. That disease was blamed for reducing yields statewide by 7 percent last year.

About the only good news for Kansas agriculture contained in the KASS report came for stockmen. Mild conditions have allowed livestock producers to maintain conditions while feeding less, the report said.

But the drought is also affecting cattle producers as well. Water is being hauled to cattle in drier areas, and dust was reported to be causing health problems in feedlot cattle.

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