I am guessing that it is quite a sight for anyone driving by to see me with a camera, my two children fidgeting around in front of me and my wife making funny faces at them behind me in an attempt to get them to smile at the edge of a rural wheat field. But, it seems to be an annual tradition now for the Reese family.
My wife loves the look of mature wheat and generally wants to get photos of our children in the aesthetically pleasing amber waves of grain. So, a couple of weeks ago, just before harvest, my family was perched next to a country road at the fringe of my uncle’s wheat field in northwest Ohio. Though my 22-month-old-son was less than cooperative in the wheat field photo shoot, my daughter did very well and I got some pretty nice pictures.
Along with serving as a great background for photos, soft red winter wheat is a valuable crop in Ohio, a state known for the production of high quality wheat for flour. Wheat also provides valuable cover for the fields in the winter months after being planted in the fall and the stalks of the plants provide straw for livestock bedding and other uses. And, including wheat in a crop rotation with corn and soybeans can boost yields, reduce disease and insect problems and provide a late-summer window for field work after harvest. In addition, many farmers can plant a soybean crop immediately following the late June harvest of wheat, particularly in southern Ohio.
While wheat does have many benefits, farmers are currently facing some of the unfortunate challenges associated with the crop. As always, Ohio’s wheat crop was a harbinger of spring as it greened up in great shape, but the soggy weather in April and May took its toll.
“I love raising wheat, but it is exposed to the weather for eight months and there is a lot of potential for it to be a flop,” said Dan Wagner, who farms in Hardin and Hancock counties. “Wheat looked great coming into May, but then we started seeing the tile lines and I knew it was too wet. The water killed it in the low areas and in other places there was a head, but there was nothing in it.”
Along with reducing yields, the wet conditions also favored the development of fungal diseases (including head scab) that reduced the quality in some fields, though not as much as was initially expected by some. Last year there was quite a bit of poor quality wheat in Ohio and there were serious concerns about quality going into harvest this year.
“A lot of guys were very pessimistic this year looking out in the fields afraid that they were not going to have the yield or the quality they were hoping for. It seems like a lot of the quality we’re getting in is considerably better than last year,” said Jeff Reese, grain originator for Blanchard Valley Farmers Cooperative. “We don’t see nearly the shrunken kernels we had last year or the head scab. With head scab, last year we saw five, six or seven percent damage and this year it seems to be less than two percent or three percent.”
Statewide, early surveys were showing that wheat quality was better than last year as well. Ohio State Extension specialist and plant pathologist Pierce Paul estimated average scab incidence was anywhere from eight percent to 10 percent across the state, with less affected fields as low as one percent of heads impacted, and more severe cases ranging as high as 45 of 100 heads showing symptoms of scab. He said it is difficult to generalize for the state as a whole due to the wide range from least to most affected.
"The rains created moist, humid conditions," Paul said. "Any time we have moist, humid conditions, we'll have diseases."
Unfortunately, the lackluster 2011 wheat crop is only among the first economic losses resulting from the unbelievably wet spring we had this year. In general, yields and quality were down, but the wheat crop, while not great, was by no means a disaster either. For my purposes, in fact, it was picture perfect.
This column is brought to you by Ohio agriculture. Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and resides in Baltimore, Ohio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more, visit freshcoun tryair.blogspot.com.