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Alternative crops for winter wheat producers
Dryland winter wheat producers in the Nebraska Panhandle anticipating reduced yields or crop failure due to drought have several options to choose from, according to a specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Panhandle Research and Extension Center.
As spring warms up, several factors have left dryland winter wheat fields with poor to very poor yield potential. Dipak Santra, alternative crops breeding specialist at the Panhandle Center, described the conditions: Much of the dryland wheat was planted into dry soil last fall, and didn’t germinate fully or uniformly. And many producers planted late, hoping for rain. This resulted in poor emergence with less vigor than normal.
The young wheat failed to attain the normal growth stage before going into winter, which was relatively dry, with a late winter-early spring cold spell that caused some freeze injury.
In the southern Panhandle, wheat stands are spotty due to the dry conditions last fall, according to Extension Educator Karen DeBoer in Cheyenne County. Moisture is needed in the south Panhandle to keep up with the warm, windy conditions. Army cutworms are a problem in some fields.
Wheat in the Northern Panhandle is similar to the south, reported Extension Educator John Thomas in Box Butte County, with the exception that there is a little more wheat in fair to good condition around Hemingford. Thomas credited a couple of timely moisture events, but said more is needed as things warm up. Army cutworms have not been spotted in the north.
Santra said topsoil is very dry and sub-soil moisture is significantly lower than normal throughout the Panhandle.
Scottsbluff was more than 1 inch behind the long-term average in precipitation in late May. He said farmers who are wondering what to do with fields with poor yield potential have three choices:
First, leave wheat fields as they are, and hope for good precipitation in late spring and early summer to improve yield potential on existing stands.
Second, abandon their wheat fields and claim 100 percent of the appraised value for the failed wheat.
The third option is to plant failed fields to alternative crops or forages. Farmers who choose this option should be able to receive a minimum 35 percent insurance claim for the lost wheat, and the remaining insurance claim would depend on the success or failure of the second planted insurable summer crop. Farmers should contact their crop insurance agent for details about their particular policy and its provisions.
Differences in farms and farmers’ situations will dictate the best option for each farmer, according to Santra.
Proso millet is the first crop of choice for replanting, he said. Proso millet is the most suitable alternative crop in the Panhandle, highly adaptable to low moisture and dryland situations. It is more efficient in producing decent yields with the least amount of water compared to other common cereals (wheat, corn, or sorghum).
UNL has been testing proso millet varieties in the Panhandle District. Results from several years of variety trials are posted on-line at the Cropwatch site (http://cropwatch.unl.edu/web/varietytest/othercrops). Farmers can refer to this web site for selecting suitable varieties with high yield potential for their region.
Millet prices are experiencing historical highs, averaging $27.24 per hundredweight over the past 12 months, with recent monthly averages around $35 per hundredweight, according to Jessica Johnson, Assistant Extension Educator – Ag Economics. High prices are anticipated to continue, but will depend on how much proso millet is produced.
Santra said sunflower is the second alternative crop of choice. When subsoil moisture is lacking, sunflower is one of the better crops because of the deep rooting system. Johnson said sunflower prices are moderate, quoted at approximately $20 per hundredweight, but have the potential to reach $30 per hundredweight.
Based on the long-term forecast, the next few months are expected to be drier than normal, which would also benefit sunflowers, which do not grow well in wet conditions.
Again, check UNL variety test results at http://cropwatch.unl.edu/web/varietytest/othercrops for suitable varieties.
Input costs could vary between proso millet and sunflower, according to Santra. Proso millet is a very low input crop, and there is no disease or insect pressure that would require chemical spraying. No fertilizer will be needed because of residual fertilizer remaining in wheat fields. On the other hand, sunflower will require chemical pest control and might require fertilizer, which are likely to increase the input costs. Because of all these factors, proso millet could be a better choice than sunflower for higher profitability.
Budgets for sunflower and millet can be found on http://panhandle.unl.edu/cropbudgets.
Santra urged producers to check availability of proso millet seed before choosing that option. As far as sunflower seed, UNL has tested a number of hybrids, including Mycogen (part of DowAgro Science), Syngenta (Garst Seed Co.), Croplan Genetics, (or WindfieldLand O’Lake).
Planting season for both sunflower and proso millet start in late May and continues until the end of June. Producers have plenty of time to prepare their ground and for planting either millet or sunflower, according to Santra.
For additional information, contact Dipak Santra at 308-632-1244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.