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Archive for Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Wheat farmers face shortage of certified seed

October 5, 2004

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— Certified seed is in short supply in weather-ravaged parts of western Kansas as farmers head to the fields this fall to plant their 2005 winter wheat crop, seed dealers said.

A long-standing drought, coupled with untimely harvest rains that caused widespread sprout damage to this year's winter wheat crop, hit seed growers in the region, resulting in shortages of seed in some areas.

Vance Ehmke, a Dighton seed dealer, said certified seed growers in the area harvested about 30 percent of what they normally produce.

Ehmke said his farm had an average yield of 17 bushels an acre -- the second-worst crop he has seen in 30 years of farming. The only time it had been that bad was in 1981 after the wheat was damaged in a late freeze, he said.

"We personally bought from other certified seed dealers in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado, just so we would have wheat and our customers had something to plant," he said. "We had to pull our ads because the phones would not stop ringing."

Aggravating the already short seed supplies in western Kansas were recent rains that caused some soil crusting. That made it difficult for young wheat plants to emerge and forced many farmers to replant, he said.

"Acreage may be up a teeny bit," Ehmke said. "Far and away the bigger influence is the amount of seed out there."

However, several seed dealers in eastern Kansas -- where this year's wheat crop fared better -- are reporting no shortages.

The problem seems to be confined west of the Smith Center area in the northern tier counties, said Shane Ohlde, manager of Ohlde Seed Farms in Washington County.

On Monday, Kansas Agricultural reported that 52 percent of the winter wheat crop had been planted in the state. About 24 percent has emerged.

Kansas is the nation's leading grower of both hard white and hard red winter wheat. The state had been moving toward white wheat because its light-colored flour is often favored by international customers for making noodles, flat breads and other products.

The government has been encouraging the shift with a program offering an extra 20-cent-per-bushel payment for hard white winter wheat.

But white wheat is more susceptible to sprouting in cool, damp conditions than red varieties. Rain storms that hit western Kansas at harvest time this year caused widespread sprout damage, a condition where the kernels in the head begin to sprout, hurting grain quality.

Seed shortages have prompted some of Ehmke's customers to put in hard white winter wheat because they could not find more popular red varieties, Ehmke said, adding that he has sold more seeds for white wheat this fall than any other type.

Brett Myers, executive vice president of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, said he did not expect an increase in white wheat acreage. Instead, he anticipates Kansas farmers will likely plant the same, or slightly fewer, white wheat acres this year.

Scott City wheat grower Jack Frick, for example, opted to cut back on his white wheat acres. For two straight years Frick has grown white wheat on 100 percent of his farm. This fall, however, he is planting just 10 percent of his wheat acres into white wheat, with the rest in red wheat.

"This year we need to be more certain of what our returns are going to be on the wheat crop," Frick said.

But Scott City wheat grower Ron Suppes is planting between 600 and 700 acres of hard white wheat -- twice as much as he planted last year.

Suppes said white wheat will help Kansas better compete in the world market by offering something different.

"White wheat is just starting to take hold," he said. "I don't know if it will bring a better price, but it may be easier to move."

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