Grit Blogs > One Foot in the City

Farming Wheat Isn't for the Weak Spirit

As a daughter of a KaWheatnsas wheat farmer, I have many memories of crop disasters and appreciate the hardships faced by these families.  In those years, we didn’t have crop insurance and if the wheat died, it was a tough year.  I specifically remember years when hard hail took the wheat down at the peak of the growing period.  In my mind is an image of my Dad standing at the edge of an eighty acre field, crying after a total loss.

Well, Kansas weather has made the news this year with unpredictable dryness, wetness, wind, cold, and untimely snow and sleet.  We are experiencing the third year of drought.  Our wheat was happily growing with several inches of good rain and snow, but recently we have had three weeks of freezing temperature.  For those unfamiliar with wheat farming, wheat can be killed if the temperature goes too low at a time when the wheat grain stalk is maturing.

This week, experts hit the road in Kansas to diagnose how severe the crop loss was.  I found the photos and explanations very helpful in understanding their findings. Ag experts were in the fields looking for damage from two problems:  continuing drought as measured by the moisture available in the subsoil and 2) damage to the plant stems from freezing temperatures.

The measures taken seem fairly straight forward, if tedious.  They walk into fields all over the state and take random samples.  They test potential yield by counting the number of wheat stalks per foot and also pulling up plants to determine the depth of the plant roots, indicating soil moisture.

Plant damage from freezing was determined by examining the plant for damage.  I have provided photos to illustrate what happens when a plant freezes.

healthy wheatfroze 
I haven’t heard the report of my own crop yet, but if it was damaged, it would have been from the freeze this week.  My county had abundant rain and the wheat was looking healthy.  Besides hoping for an income from the crop this year, I’d like to feel a little success as a farmer.  As we say here, it sure seems like it’s been a long dry spell for farmers.   

mary carton
5/6/2013 1:42:27 PM

about 3 years ago we had a hard freeze in April in NW Alabama. The wheat in the area had to be plowed under due to some toxin produced when the wheat freezes at the growth stage it was at. Last year the corn was hit with drought and extended days of 100 degree weather.


joan pritchard
5/6/2013 1:11:23 PM

Thanks, Dave. I caught my farmer yesterday so I could ask him if he thought we had damage. Of course, the answer is never that simple.......well, no, he thought we didn't have too much damage because the wheat was so late. Probably got some, never know, we'll just wait and see what the yield is. Then, in explanation of the yellow airplane flying overhead, he explained that with all the rain, we have a lot of rust already forming and those pretty yellow flowers in the wheat probably shouldn't be. So, I guess it is the same old farming story - when and if we pull into the field, the bins will tell us how the crop went. Damn I love farming.


nebraska dave
5/4/2013 2:37:04 PM

Joan, it is heart wrenching to watch several months of dedicated work be destroyed in just a few minutes. Our dreaded weather event was always hail. Now farmers can have hail insurance if they can afford it. Most of the big farms with thousands of acres here in Nebraska have it but the homestead of 100 or less could never afford it. Now farmers have the option of replanting short term corn which doesn't bring as big of a harvest but it still gives a decent crop. Those options were not available when Dad farmed back in the fifties and sixties. Well, they weren't affordable for him. Farming was then and still is the biggest gamble their is. Good luck with your wheat. Have the best day that you can. I'm still waiting for the weather to warm up and dry out to plant anything in the garden.