Drought and winds have affected much of western Nebraska’s 2013 winter wheat crop, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension educators and specialists say. Some fields are bare, others have thinner than usual stands, and in others the plant growth is slower than normal.
But the crop condition varies from one location to another, they say, and the fate of the 2013 crop will depend largely on the weather between now and harvest, especially precipitation and wind.
Western Nebraska has been in a severe drought all year — Scottsbluff remains under 7 inches of precipitation for 2012, less than half the average — and many areas have received almost no precipitation since winter wheat was planted beginning in September.
In Box Butte County in the northern Panhandle, Extension Educator John Thomas said the condition of wheat fields varies with the circumstances. In general, wheat that was planted earlier, and on fallow ground, was able to achieve some growth, he said. Wheat planted later — for example, into harvested fields that had been in dry edible beans — usually has poorer stands and lags in growth stage.
Dryland fields that had produced a crop just prior to planting often have less stored water than fallow fields, Thomas noted.
Thomas said wheat seed dealers around Box Butte County reported that some growers have had to replant or perform supplemental planting to beef up stands in some areas.
As for future prospects, “A local wheat seed supplier here said if we have normal moisture from here on out we could have a pretty decent, at least average, wheat crop,” Thomas said. “If it continues extremely droughty, ground that has more moisture is going to offer up a better wheat crop.”
Seed dealers also have noted that more winter wheat was planted under center pivot irrigation systems, Thomas said. Those growers have an option: if the area receives more precipitation, they could consider the wheat a winter cover crop, tear it out in the spring, and plant another crop that would use more water. If it remains dry, they can leave the wheat and produce a crop from that.
“You can cut back irrigation with wheat, and while you might not get a bumper crop, at least you’ll get a crop,” he said. “Wheat is a tough crop. It can take a lot of punishment and still end up with an average to decent crop.”
UNL Crop Extension Breeding Specialist Dipak Santra, who oversees wheat variety trials in the Panhandle, also reported variable crop conditions from one area to the next. Santra cooperates with growers in Box Butte, western Scotts Bluff, Kimball, and Cheyenne counties who host variety test plots.