By DANIEL GRANT
The active weather so far this year created two key challenges for wheat growers and their winter crop in Illinois.
Muddy field conditions hindered applications of spring fertilizer and herbicides in many areas while a lack of sunlight potentially slowed crop growth.
A handful of fields were also battered by recent hailstorms, particularly in the northern half of the state, although that situation did not appear to be widespread as of April 6.
“I think the wheat crop has slipped a little bit,” Mark Krausz, Clinton County farmer and president of the Illinois Wheat Association (IWA), told FarmWeek. “I think it still has potential to be a really good crop. But it could have been excellent.”
About half the Illinois wheat crop (56%) was ranked good to excellent as of April 3, up slightly from the same time last year, with 35% fair and 9% in poor to very poor condition, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Illinois field office.
“We’ve got pretty good tillers and stands, but the crop is not getting any warmth and sunlight. Those are two things really holding back the wheat crop,” Krausz said Thursday after his farm received another inch of rain. “We should have a stretch (of better weather) coming up.”
Once field conditions improve, farmers must decide what to do agronomically with each field. The IWA president noted some fields have ruts from spring fertilizer applications.
“Our situation here in southern Illinois is we’re all barely getting by getting fertilizer on,” Krausz said. “I’d say two-thirds to three-quarters of the second shot of nitrogen is on. It’s been a real struggle.
“And I don’t think hardly anybody has Harmony or other herbicides on,” he noted. “Weeds are growing through the wheat” in some fields.
Elsewhere, drought remains an issue in key wheat-producing areas west of the Mississippi River. About 48% of the crops are in areas experiencing drought, according to USDA. Meanwhile, planting of spring wheat probably seems like a distant wish for farmers to the north after another blizzard blanketed the Dakotas the first week of April.
Overall, just 28% of the U.S. wheat crop was rated good to excellent as of April 3, which is the second lowest to begin the spring rankings since the NASS data series started in 1986, according to Rich Nelson of Allendale Inc. in McHenry.
IWA will host its annual Southern Illinois Wheat Tour to assess the crop late next month. Look for details of that event in an upcoming issue of FarmWeek or on the IWA website, illinoiswheat.org.
This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit FarmWeekNow.com.