Wheat & More…or Less…
By Vance Ehmke
In brief, for a lot of wheat in this area of Kansas, rain will no longer do us any good. What we need is more drugs and alcohol!
Actually that is not far from the truth. Our South Dakota custom cutter said he took 6 combines to Kiowa KS and the farmer there said he may not need any of
them. A third of his crop is already zeroed out and in another 1-2 weeks, another third will be gone. The South Dakota cutter said we will probably be his only stop between the Gulf of Mexico and South Dakota. I told him we still had a crop but if it continues to not rain, we’ll start seeing severe drought stress showing up along with tiller abortion.
Already this will be one of the shortest crops with headed-out wheat being less than 10 inches high. We have poor numbers of tillers and they are weak and small and we could easily lose a lot of them. We should joint in mid-April. For this area and here on our farm, this will be one of the worst wheat crops in the past 50
years. We have farmed 48 years and aside from 1981, this has potential for
being the worst.
The South Dakota cutter also said one of his custom cutter buddies who takes 12
combines to Stanton CO Kansas said there is nothing there. For extreme southwest Kansas this year is just like last year-no dryland wheat at all. If it’s not
irrigated, you have no wheat. Too, the TX and OK panhandles are the same
as last year with 80% abandonment.
Many fields here in Lane County KS never came up and a fair number have
been chiseled to stop wind erosion. I looked at 30-35 years of KS wheat
crops and abandonment runs about 10%. I could see a good 25% abandoned
here this year with very low yields on the rest. Even with long fallow on
our farm, we have way less than half normal subsoil moisture-and little
staying power if it doesn’t rain. Forecast through May 31 is just plain
old dry weather. On clean stubble where we’d normally plant dryland milo
or corn, summer row crops are suicidal with no more than 2-3 inches of
moist topsoil moisture rather than 2-3 feet. Milo seed will be hard to get
as farmers probably will try milo after their failed wheat but unless it
rains, that crop will fail too. The seed dealers have been saying to get
the hybrids you want, get it ordered soon. Actually, it won’t make any
difference what hybrid you plant as that crop will very likely fail too.
Even then many farmers are thinking of planting milo just for ground cover
so the ground won’t blow this winter. Seed wheat and triticale supplies
could be very short this fall…and expensive.
Range and pasture conditions are the worst I’ve ever seen. In order to
protect the grass, there should be no grazing at all in order to let the
grass recover from the past year or two. More cattle continue to be culled
Aside from these agronomic realities are trends in land prices-which over
the past several years continue to be very strong as evidenced by a recent sale
of eastern Scott County dryland going for $4100/acre. If the outside
investors who bought that land want a 5% return, they’ll need $200/acre in
cash rent…which won’t happen. The arrival of outside investors along
with off-the-charts land prices clearly signal a top in the market. Oh
yeah, then there’s the drought, an explosion in interest rates and grain
prices below cost of production. In short, this super cycle boom is darned
near over. If you’ve got excess cash, I’d invest it in paying off debt.
That’s the best deal in town.