The emerging 2012 winter wheat crop appears to be getting off to a solid start in Kansas after a year of drought that decimated many crops that came before it.
Across Kansas, the changing of the seasons is marked each fall by the millions of acres of greening wheat fields. This season, however, hundreds of thousands more acres than usual are emerging beneath dead stalks of failed corn and soybean crops.
Just how much more winter wheat was planted this fall probably won't be known until the government releases its official estimate in January, but industry observers say it is safe to say the state is going to have a significant increase over the 8.7 million acres of wheat seeded last year.
Although this year's drought has left Kansas fields with little soil moisture to sustain another crop, timely rains so far this fall have given the 2011 wheat crop a decent beginning. This week's crop condition report from the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service rated 43 percent of the emerging wheat in good to excellent condition. About 45 percent was in fair condition with 12 percent in poor to very poor shape.
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On Monday, KASS will release its latest snapshot of crop conditions.
"Weather-wise we have had a fairly widespread good rain a few weeks back that was very well received and had good timing to get a lot of the wheat fields up and established," said Aaron Harries, director of marketing for the trade group Kansas Wheat.
Among the those growers planting more wheat than usual this year is farmer David Schemm, who seeded 4,000 acres into wheat at his Sharon Springs farm in northwest Kansas.
Schemm said by phone from his field Friday that the reason he decided to plant more wheat than usual was the "good conditions and basically the price of wheat right now is looking pretty good."
He finished planting the last of his wheat fields by Oct. 1, and the early planting meant most of those benefited from the 2-3 inches of rain the region recently received. Only in one field does he have a thinner stand of wheat where the soil moisture had run out and could not support all the germinating wheat plants.
"We got the rains just in the nick of time," Schemm said, adding he is not going to have to replant any of wheat fields.
KASS estimated Monday that all but 8 percent of the winter wheat had now been planted in the state with 70 percent of it now having emerged. That is ahead of the 65 percent average for this time of year.
Harries said he was "cautiously optimistic" about the 2012 winter wheat crop in the state.
"My caveat to that is obviously that the drought conditions continue to expand... most of Kansas is in at least some level of drought and the winter forecasts, most of those don't tend to be very promising," he said.
Usually the winter wheat crop has some soil moisture it can draw upon if it doesn't rain, but the long drought has exhausted those reserves.
"We are going to be in a drought for a long time, the moisture deficits are so big," Harries said. "The question is whether we can get adequate rain at the right time to make a wheat crop."