Above average wheat yields expected across Nebraska


For The Sun-Telegraph

Although Nebraska's planted wheat acres are at record lows, producers should expect high yields. Favorable growing conditions, including a mild winter and abundant precipitation, has Nebraska wheat positioned to achieve wheat yields not seen in the past five years.

However, farmers should scout carefully for wheat rust and be prepared to treat any outbreaks in a timely manner.

The most recent crop condition report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistic Service (USDA NASS) rated 60 percent of Nebraska's winter wheat crop as good or excellent. The same report released the same week of 2015 rated 35 percent of the winter wheat crop as good or excellent, whereas 2014 was 46 percent.

Last year's winter wheat crop suffered several weather-related blows. Parts of western Nebraska suffered substantial winter kill. A severe winter storm in mid-May broke wheat stems and caused freeze injury. Then widespread rust infected wheat across the state. The statewide yield average in 2015 was 38 bushels per acre. Yields in 2014 to 2011 were 49, 35, 41, and 45 bushels per acre, respectively.

The first freeze last fall came nearly a month late, which allowed the winter wheat more time to establish. The wheat entered winter in excellent condition, and the mild weather resulted in very minimal winter kill. Periods of sustained cold temperatures or wild fluctuations in temperature that would normally harm wheat were mostly absent.

Throughout the winter and continuing into this spring, strong storms refilled much of the soil profile with water. The latest topsoil moisture conditions as reported by the USDA NASS are higher than the same weeks in 2015 and 2014. In the most recent report, 88 percent of topsoil moisture was rated as adequate and surplus, compared to 64 percent in 2015 and 49 percent in 2014.

Winter wheat that is currently rated high for condition and plenty of soil moisture has the potential to produce high wheat yields. Kent Lorens with the Nebraska Wheat Board recently estimated that Nebraska wheat yields could average 55 bushels per acre this year. Current surveys from western Nebraska have shown support for dryland wheat yields approaching the 50 bushel per acre threshold.

Understanding the potential yield of the wheat crop is important when making management decisions. Decisions on inputs, whether for fertility, weed control, or disease control, must be based on the potential yield and value of the crop.

With reports of wheat rust moving throughout Kansas and into isolated parts of Nebraska, frequent scouting and timely applications of fungicides are important to protect this year's crop. A fungicide application made to protect the flag leaf in a severe rust outbreak will easily pay for the application and chemical costs of these applications. Without the fungicide, a yield loss of 20-30 bushels per acre should be expected if the wheat variety is susceptible and the field would otherwise become heavily infested.

This year's wheat crop is much further along in development than previous years, with nearly 60 percent of the crop jointed at the beginning of May. Monitor the wheat growth stage of your fields to ensure timely application of inputs. As this wheat crop is about two weeks ahead in development, fungicide applications will need to be made earlier to protect the flag leaf and potential yields.

Recent storms brought cold temperatures and snow to much of western Nebraska. The level of injury to the wheat depends on the growth stage and the amount of time spent below 28 degrees. The accompanying map shows areas that fell below 28 degrees and for how many hours from May 1 and May 2.

Due to the current growth stage of the wheat impacted by the recent low temperatures, any injury to the wheat is expected to be minimal. Currently, no reports of injury have been received.


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