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Weed pressures could smoke some wheat

By Tim Unruh

The Salina Journal

Wheat harvest has begun in Saline County -- barely -- thanks to muddy fields that have idled most combines.

Some of the crop is ready to harvest in the wake of much rain, but scant stands are competing with broadleaf weeds that could cost farmers at the elevator.

"They're becoming bad," said Steve Clanton of the weeds. He farms south of Minneapolis.

"In a lot of the wheat, you look down between the rows and it's completely green," he said.

Thinner, shorter wheat that didn't get moisture in time to recover from an extremely cold winter didn't develop the shade to hold back weed development, said Tom Maxwell, agricultural Extension agent for Saline and Ottawa counties.

Then came rain. Maxwell has measured 6âàöÃƬ¨âÑ¢âàöâàè1/2 inches at his home in east Salina over the past two weeks, which has given weeds an unwanted boost.

"It's a race to see if we can get the wheat harvested before the weeds start to come up over the canopy," Maxwell said.

Weeds can increase moisture content and lower the price paid for wheat when it's dumped at the elevator.

Weedy wheat is hard to harvest, said Steve Hoesli, general manager at Delphos Co-op Association. Separating plant material from the valuable kernels can be challenging.

"The stuff they don't get peeled out of there will be dockage," he said.

For example, a 5 percent price discount amounts to 18 cents a bushel.

"It's gonna slow harvest down a lot," Hoesli said.

Wheat price drops

The wheat price dropped 5 cents a bushel Monday, to $6.88 at Delphos, and to $7.18âàöÃƬ¨âÑ¢âàöâàè1/4 at Cargill Ag. Horizons grain terminal, 1112 N. Halstead.

Harvest began Saturday for farmer Clayton Short. He cut 60 acres in parts of two fields east of Assaria. Progress halted in both because the soil was too wet.

"We didn't want to get the equipment all muddy to start with," he said.

Some of the grain was hauled to Short's elevator in Mentor and a load was dumped Monday morning at Scoular grain terminal off Country Club Road at Salina.

Early yields were "in the 40s" in terms of bushels per acre, a moisture content of 13.8 percent, test weight of 61 pounds per bushel, and to Short's surprise, 12.3 percent protein, which is higher than usual.

Rain slows harvest

For many producers, the grain is ready for harvest in some fields, but wet soil won't support combines.

"It looks like it would cut if it wasn't muddy," said Ralph Johnson, of Brookville. "I've got some in the sand around home. We're just gonna have to see."

Minneapolis farmer Clanton won't head for the fields until later this week.

"I've got a lot of green in the heads," he said.

Hot, windy conditions prevailed Monday, and today the high is expected to be in the upper 90s, with still more wind.

"It's all gonna happen at once," said Joe Kejr, of Brookville, who farms from western Saline County to near Salina.

Saturday night brought nearly another inch of rain -- 0.98 -- to Salina Regional Airport. At Kejr's farmstead northeast of Brookville, one gauge held 0.90 of an inch and the other, 50 feet away, read 1.6 inches. His home has received a foot of rain in the past month.

Variety in ripeness

But harvest is close.

"We might try some (today) or Wednesday," Kejr said. "It might be just waiting for the ground to dry up."

But not all of every wheat field is ready for the reaper.

"There is quite a bit of extreme in different fields, from ripe to green, more than I've seen in a long time," he said.

Farmer Jay Wagner was busy swathing his second cutting of hay Monday morning.

With fields from near Salina to north of Bennington, he figured wheat harvest might begin at the end of this week, and he predicted some yields between 30 and 40 bushels to the acre.

"It's not the best, by any means," Wagner said. "Some fields have quite a few weeds. We've had close to 6 inches of rain in the last two weeks. There's water standing in every pothole."

(c)2014 The Salina Journal