Sales Manager/Agronomist Joey Kuehler inspects the soil profile of a wheat field in Haskell County with a soil probe.  Photo by Trevor Hands.
With the winter of 2017-2018 officially being the driest on record since record keeping in 1874, farmers are feeling the effects of the latest drought.  The last time our area saw precipitation above .10" was October 6th, 2017 - 156 days ago as of this report, and the winter wheat crop has everyone, understandably, concerned.  GCC Sales Manager and Agronomist, Joey Kuehler, along with the rest of the GCC agronomy team have been busy scouting fields.  Joey handles our members in our southern territory.  We recently caught up with him in a field in Haskell County.  
"The main issue right now with this extended drought is that this crop hasn't had the opportunity to develop a crown root system," says Kuehler.  When the wheat seed is first planted in the fall, it develops it's first root, the seminal root, that picks up moisture and minor nutrients that helps the plant get it's start.  However, it is the crown root system that the plant is dependent on to develop and make it's way down through the soil profile to pick up the much needed moisture that exists further down in the soil.  Kuehler was finding adequate moisture around 4-6" down.  The problem was, only the seminal root was reaching that depth and the crown roots weren't developed enough to get what the plant needed to produce the taller, better tillered and more robust wheat crop that would be more typically found this time of year.  "I shouldn't be able to do this," Kuehler said as he pulled on a cluster of wheat plants that easily gave way out of the soil.  Kuehler said the plant was looking fair above ground but limited in the root system below ground.  
The mild winter we had did have it's advantages, however.  "Even though sometimes this lack of root system going into the winter months and into the dormancy period can lead to winterkill issues, I'm really not seeing any of that."
Kuehler remains cautiously optimistic about the wheat, stating that it's still too early to write off a wheat harvest, though these next several weeks will be crucial for the developing plant.  "As it gets more and more advanced as it gets out of dormancy, and gets more into active growth, that's going to become more of an issue, especially as the days get longer and the temperatures get higher and the moisture demands on a daily basis increase."  He stated that even a small amount of rain during these next few weeks could completely change the yield outcome around.  
"The old timers used to say here when I moved to Kansas 30 years ago that wheat has nine lives and if you don't use eight of them, you're probably not going to harvest a good crop."  
With that in mind, Kuehler encourages farmers to stay on top of weeds and insects and keep them under control.  "I would just encourage guys to look at this crop and look at what it could do, manage it and...let's just see what mother nature brings."
For any questions on the wheat crop and/or ag inputs, give our agronomist team a call at 620-275-6161.