By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
Wheat harvest is scheduled to begin next month, and while some recent reports have indicated that some crops have been struck by various levels of disease infestation, Seward County K-State agent Mike Hanson says producers have little to worry about in Southwest Kansas.
“Fortunately, with the way the prevailing winds have been and the conditions that we have had, we haven’t had to deal with that,” he said. “I’ve been out in a lot of fields and have not seen anything. I’ve seen a little bit of insects here and there, very, very minor freeze damage, but as far as diseases, Wheat Streak Mosaic may be a little part of the yellow. I think we’ve been very fortunate. It’s not in the bin yet, but give us time.”
The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service said in a report earlier this month that 20 percent of the state wheat crop was suffering some light disease infestation, with about 5 percent showing moderate infestation. Farmers are reporting powdery mildew, stripe and leaf rust.
Hanson said those problems, however, are mostly in other parts of the state.
“They have seen some east of here in south central up to north central Kansas, but nothing in this area,” he said.
According to KASS’ May 24 Kansas Agricultural Statistics Crop conditions Report, 81 percent of this year’s crop has headed. This is 7 percent behind the five-year average.
Still, more than 60 percent of the crop is rated in very good to excellent condition, according to the report. In recent weeks, crop conditions have deteriorated somewhat, thanks to foliar diseases, insect damage and severe weather.
Hanson said these problems have a chance to come into play at any time, but little, if any, has been seen so far in Southwest Kansas.
“We’re going to have some issues with disease no matter what conditions we have,” he said. “With the temperatures we’ve had and the prevailing winds, we have not seen this rust.”
More than 32 percent of the state’s crop, meanwhile, has at least some infestation of powdery mildew, stripe or leaf rust, while about 10 percent of the crop has some insect infestation.
In addition to this, hail and high winds have rampaged some of the maturing crop, while heat stress is showing up in other areas, according to Kansas Wheat Commission CEO Justin Gilpin.
“Diseases and high heat stress in areas of Kansas will likely cause a reduction of earlier crop estimates, which were between 335 and 344 million bushels,” he said.
Hanson said locally, though, all signs point to a good crop season.
“Environmentally, we’ve got to get everything going on and hope we don’t have a hail storm come through here,” he said. “The protein is a big concern. Last year’s protein was bad in a lot of places. If we don’t have 12 percent protein, it may be hard for farmers to market.”
Hanson said conditions in Texas have trimmed wheat protein levels. He said this is due to environmental factors, and while some local crops were hit by recent hail storms, he said Southwest Kansas looks to be in good shape.
He said there are two types of rust – stripe and leaf – and both are easy to spot if the crop is significantly infected.
“You can just go walking through the fields, and you can see it,” he said. “Fungicide will take care of it. It’s a pretty expensive application for them. That’s another good reason I’m glad we don’t have that issue here.”
Hanson said much of rust is carried by the wind, and he said many people are worried about it coming into the area. He believes wheat farmers have little to be concerned about though.
With harvest season on the near horizon, Hanson said trying to remove rust from crops would not make economic sense.
“The fungicide you use has a harvest interval on it, and it would be too late to do it anyway,” he said. “If you find it and you’re at the stage where you can spray it, you got to figure out the economic impact of it if it’s going to warrant spraying it.”
Hanson said there are formulas to factor whether or not spraying would be a good idea, but much of this depends on the price of wheat itself.
“Three years ago, whenever we had $7 wheat, three bushels would cover it, but now, it would take 10 bushels to cover it,” he said. “I do believe that if somebody had 12 percent protein wheat or higher, they’d probably be able to get a dollar or two higher than that.”
Hanson said rust can take as much as half of a farmer’s yield away if it is not taken care of immediately.
“Normally, you see it coming in mid- to late April,” he said. “You can put down fungicide to stop it.”
Hanson said another reason little rust has been seen in Southwest Kansas is that many local varieties of wheat are resistant to the disease.
“That doesn’t mean it’s got full resistance to it, but it doesn’t seem to hit it as hard,” he said.
Hanson said many, including himself, officials from the Farm Service Agency and crop scouts, are continuously looking for problems in area wheat.
“Fortunately, it’s not an issue. Right now, our issue is little things falling out of the sky,” he said of recent hail storms.
Hanson said rust can start in a particular area of a wheat field, and it usually spreads from there.
“It becomes a concern for the whole area,” he said. “Some may have it worse than others depending on the variety. They probably won’t have 100 percent failure in the crop. They’ll still have something to cut, but their yields will be cut dramatically.”