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Eastern Corn Belt wheat doing better than Plains states' crop

JACKSON, Tenn. — The condition of this region’s wheat remains good, even as the country’s major growing areas report poor crop conditions.

Wheat growers in Tennessee escaped a potentially damaging frost in early April. “It appears that temperatures did not get cool enough for long enough,” said Tyson Raper, wheat specialist at the West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Jackson, where nighttime temperatures fell to 28 degrees on April 8.

Tennessee growers who seeded the state’s 360,000-acre wheat crop are hoping warmer temperatures continue.

“With a little luck, heads should be in boot in the immediate future,” said Raper. Warmer, drier weather will allow wheat growers to make proper fungicide applications for fusarium head blight, he added.

In Kentucky, cold temperatures in November 2017 resulted in poor growth for wheat planted that month. Carrie Knott, wheat specialist at the Western Kentucky Research and Education Center in Princeton, said plants in those fields may not have enough tillers to produce profitable yields.

“Based upon the condition of late-planted wheat across the state, some Kentucky producers will have the difficult decision of terminating an unprofitable wheat crop to plant a more profitable full-season soybean crop this year,” said Knott, in a April 10 update.

Western Kentucky received more than 6 inches of rain over the 30-year average from January to early April, according to Knott. The excess moisture caused yellowing in many wheat fields, likely because of saturation causing root damage. Nitrogen will not fix that damage to wheat plants, she said.

“They simply need dry conditions with warm temperatures to grow new roots,” she explained.

A cold winter in Michigan and Ohio kept winter wheat dormant longer than in recent years. The quality of Michigan’s crop in early April was slightly improved compared to last year, according to the state’s USDA crop progress report.

Wheat plantings increased in both Michigan and Ohio, with growers seeding 530,000 acres in each state, for 1.06 million acres, according to USDA. Although still lower than many recent years, the two states increased planting by a combined 120,000 acres over the previous year.

The wheat crop quality is down slightly in both Indiana and Illinois, also because of cold temperatures and a wet winter. The percentage of very poor and poor fields in Indiana, about 10 percent, is higher than this time in 2017, stated USDA.

But the crop condition in the Eastern Corn Belt is far better than crop conditions in the nation’s main wheat-growing areas. About 60 percent of the wheat crop in Texas and Oklahoma was rated poor or very poor, in the second USDA crop conditions report in April.

In Kansas, 46 percent of wheat acreage rated poor or very poor, and 43 percent rated fair on April 8. “This year we are really putting the wheat crop to the test,” said Romulo Lollato, Kansas State University wheat specialist.

“We had a late planting, followed by extremely extended drought and by a couple of very hard freezes during the winter, and now a couple of spring freezes,” he said on a KSU radio program that aired April 12.