Farming Wheat Isn't for the Weak Spirit

Reader Contribution by Joan Pritchard
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As a daughter of a Ka

nsas 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.

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.   

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