As the wind comes sweeping down the Plain, the wheat is growing its way north.

The Wheat Quality Council annual Wheat Tour began Tuesday morning, April 30, in Manhattan, Kan., working across northern Kansas to Colby, then met with a group from Colorado about wheat conditions in that state, and converged in Wichita before returning to Manhattan.

The wheat has been pretty variable.

“Early planted wheat (September) looks pretty good except in the spots where it was drowned out by excess rain in October. Late planted wheat (November) is pretty small and not tillered well,” said Daryl Strouts, CEO/president, Kansas Wheat Alliance Inc. “The wet spring prevented or delayed a lot of fertilizer being put down, which will limit yields in those fields. Southwest Kansas is going to have the best wheat this year. Everywhere else looks pretty average.”

Leaf and stripe rust levels are low, but exist at trace levels in the lower canopy of fields, particularly in south central Kansas. Flag leaf emergence and a few heads are emerging in some fields planted at the normal time before heavy amounts of precipitation delayed planting last fall.

“Growers should be checking fields, especially seed production fields and those planted to varieties known to be susceptible to leaf and/or stripe rust. Stripe rust has most recently been confirmed in Harper, Kingman and Reno Counties” in Kansas, said Stewart R. Duncan, Extension specialist, Crops and Soils/Northeast Region Extension Office, Manhattan, Kan.

Generic fungicide products are cheap enough that most farmers can afford to spray if they see enough potential in the crop, noted Strouts.

There is one quiet concern — stem rust, hardly seen since the 1980s.

“Many younger farmers have never seen it, because wheat breeders back then collectively decided to not release any varieties that didn’t have resistance to the disease,” Strouts said. “Many new wheat breeders never learned the stem rust lesson. Now, 30 percent of western Kansas acres are planted with susceptible wheat varieties. Just like people not getting immunized and then there’s a measles outbreak, we’re setting ourselves up for a stem rust outbreak.”

Three things cause stem rust: susceptible varieties, warm/wet weather, and inoculum.

Strouts said there’s always inoculum in Texas, and southern winds easily transport it to Kansas.

“Add to this, a reluctance for farmers to spend money on managing a wheat crop, and maybe conditions are favorable for a perfect storm of stem rust,” Strouts observed. “I hope I’m wrong.”

In Nebraska, 90 percent of the wheat is grown in the western half of the state. Wheat growth has been slow because of the frigid winter and early spring.

“Freezing temperatures several weeks ago damaged leaf tips and a recent snow storm covered the majority of Nebraska wheat,” said Cody F. Creech, dryland cropping systems specialist at the Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff. Although cold temperatures caused visible injury, damage isn’t expected on grain heads when they emerge because wheat was still producing tillers and was either not jointed or had recently jointed.

“Overall, wheat stands are very good and this year’s crop should yield well with the adequate soil moisture available.”

Meanwhile, just 5 percent of Nebraska’s wheat acres are in the eastern part of the state, but it’s the most planted annual crop after corn and soybean. With the cool, wet fall, most acres were planted the last two weeks of October.

“The crop is behind in maturity, however good yield potentials remain, with soil moisture availability significantly better than last year,” said Nathan Mueller, CCA Extension agronomist for Dodge and Washington counties. “Many producers were able to topdress nitrogen early to help stimulate spring tillering. Disease and insect pressure have not been an issue yet.”

Nebraska Climatologist Al Dutcher expects an active spring.

“My expectations for the wheat crop are the area will undergo periods of heavy rainfall (best odds eastern half of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas) for May, with temperatures averaging above normal,” Dutcher said. “Hail risk will likely be considerably higher across western Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska.”

Mueller added, “There are many reason to remain optimistic for good winter wheat yields in eastern Nebraska.”

As Strouts concluded, “Every year is normal in Kansas. This one is no different.”

Amy Hadachek can be reached at amy.hadachek@midwestmessenger.com.