Winter wheat worries increase as drought persistsLee Qualm, a farmer near Platte, has never seen the soil so dry. The fourth-generation farmer has been farming since 1976 and said his father doesn’t even recall the soil being this dry.
By: Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic
PLATTE — Winter wheat will be a shaky crop this year.
Farmers who chose to plant it this fall did so in parched earth, said Bob Fanning, a plant pathology field specialist at the Winner Regional South Dakota State University Extension office.
Lee Qualm, a farmer near Platte, has never seen the soil so dry. The fourth-generation farmer has been farming since 1976 and said his father doesn’t even recall the soil being this dry.
“My dad will be 90 and he went through the Dirty ’30s,” Qualm said. “He remembers it being dry, similar to what it is now. But he doesn’t remember a fall being this dry.”
Qualm planted winter wheat in early October, but the crop did not emerge from the soil. He said the area received just enough moisture for the seeds to swell a little, but not enough for them to sprout.
“For a good share of the state, certainly in this area, the soil was just really, really dry,” Fanning said. “A fair amount of guys still planted a fair number of acres, but a lot sat there in dry soil.”
Much of the southern half of South Dakota remains in extreme or exceptional drought — the two most severe ratings on the U.S. Drought Monitor. Jones, Tripp, Gregory, Charles Mix and Bon Homme counties are all within the exceptional category. Brule, Douglas and Hutchinson are experiencing exceptional and extreme drought conditions. Buffalo, Jerauld, Aurora, Davison, Hanson and McCook counties are all in extreme drought. Sanborn and Miner counties are experiencing both extreme and severe conditions.
Winter wheat is uniquely bred to survive cold temperatures better than spring wheat, Fanning said. Ideally, a farmer would plant the wheat in mid-September to early October for the seeds to take on enough moisture to swell and germinate.
Fanning said the successful seeds emerge and grow several leaves and a crown. As cold weather gradually sets in, the plant stores some sugars in the crown, enabling it to better survive the winter.
To survive the winter, winter wheat needs to vernalize, or go through a three-week period of 40-degree or colder temperatures.
“It’s virtually unheard of for winter wheat not to get enough moisture to get to vernalization,” Fanning said. “If it doesn’t go through that, it’ll stay vegetative. So there’s some concern about whether winter wheat will go through that process. Some of it hasn’t gotten any moisture.”
Since the soil was so dry this fall during planting, some crops blew out of the ground and other crops lost the topsoil, he said.
Other crops may not germinate or get enough snow for decent insulation. Others still may dry out or get winter killed.
“That’s our biggest concern,” he said. “It was planted into dry soil and still hasn’t germinated, then the yield would be reduced or no yield at all.”
Even with recent snowfalls in Charles Mix, Gregory, Tripp and Lyman counties, there isn’t enough moisture or cover for good insulation.
But Qualm remains optimistic.
“I’ve never seen wheat not come up before,” he said. “There’s really nothing you can do. If we get substantial moisture, then we may have a good crop next year.”