I was driving across Kansas last week and took note of what I at first thought was the changing color of wheat of in Stafford and Barton County.
A closer look, however, revealed that the wheat isn’t really ripening in that area. It is freeze-damaged.
The first clue was that the color is not so much gold as white. And there’s an awful lot of green heads in those fields.
In south central Kansas, around Wichita and points south, there is a distinct, uniform gold cast to the fields these days and that really does indicate that harvest is coming up and, thanks to an unseasonably cool May, is likely to be a pretty good one.
I walked out into a Barton County field and pulled a couple of heads that were standing side by side. One of them is green and pretty uniformly filled with healthy berries. The other is white and what should have been kernels inside the head is more like straw.
SIDE BY SIDE: These two wheat heads were growing side by side in a Barton County field. One is still green with fully formed berries. The other has dry husks where kernels should be.
The damage isn’t as devastating as the wipeout I saw in Mark Cavenee’s field near Ulysses, but it is nonetheless significant.
The combination of drought and freeze has decimated thousands of acres of wheat in the western part of the state. Cavenee says Greeley County normally harvests 6 million bushels of wheat and this year will probably see fewer than 500,000 bushels.
For the central part of the state, the freeze damage will be a yield robber but most farmers will still have a wheat harvest.
Timely rain and cool nights have helped significantly both for development of secondary tillers and for grain fill and the plants that survived the freeze are looking pretty good.
In North Central Kansas, the wheat was not mature enough to sustain serious freeze damage and southeast Kansas saw more moderate temperatures than the central and western parts of the state and is expected to see a normal to slightly above normal harvest.