Hope came to Kansas wheat farmers with the Christmas season, falling from the skies as plentiful rain or snow, depending on the region.
The moisture was sufficient in most areas, even the drought-parched southwest, to put the crop in good shape – or at least better shape – as the coldest of winter weather arrives.
Informa Economics, a food and agriculture research consultancy based in Memphis, estimates 2011-12 winter wheat plantings in Kansas to total 9 million acres, up from 8.8 million acres in 2010-11 and 8.4 million acres the year before. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will release its figures in March.
Wheat crop condition is rated by the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service at 50% good to excellent, a dramatic improvement over the crop's condition at the same time in 2010.
Throughout Kansas, rain and snow events have helped lessen the impact of long-term drought in central and western Kansas. And although weather conditions can worsen between now and harvest, for now, farmers are heading into the New Year optimistic about the 2012 harvest prospects.
Roger May, a Kansas Association of Wheat Growers director near Oberlin, says nearly four-inches of rain fell after the crop was planted, while 10-inches of snow fell a few weeks ago, providing ample moisture for the crop headed into winter. "We've had plenty of moisture, and the soil profiles are in good shape. We've got a good stand of wheat headed into winter, so the crop looks excellent at this point."
Randy Fritzemeier, a KAWG director who farms near Stafford, had a forgettable 2011 wheat harvest, but the 2012 crop appears to be in good shape so far. "We've had more rain this fall than we received all year," says Fritzemeier, whose 2011 harvest was hindered by drought. The area wheat crop has gone dormant for the winter, but with good fall growth and ample soil moisture, it should be in good shape when it breaks dormancy in the spring.
Rich Randall, president of the Kansas Wheat Commission from Scott City, says more acres were sown to wheat this fall than last year in his area, and crop conditions at this time are very good. Nearly 17-inches of snow have fallen upon the crop in the last few weeks; the snow helps insulate the crop from bitter cold, yet provides much needed moisture for soils which to this point had been dry. "We had some rain that fell before the snow, so southwest Kansas is in much better shape than at this time last year," Randall says.
In Sumner County, Scott Van Allen says nearly seven inches of valuable precipitation have fallen since wheat was planted in October. "At the moment, the crop is in excellent condition heading into winter," says Van Allen, who serves on the Kansas Wheat Commission. It is a stark contrast to conditions last year, in which the crop emerged in fine shape, but went into winter dormancy with too little soil moisture. "We did not receive very much snow or rain last winter, so when the crop broke dormancy, it was too dry and we ran out of moisture. We shouldn't have that problem this year," Van Allen says.