As much as 32 percent of Kansas winter wheat crop seen as poor quality

Tuesday, February 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Recent snowfalls have brought needed moisture to winter wheat fields in Kansas, but a prolonged drought so stressed the crop that as much as 32 percent of it remains in poor or very poor condition, the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service says.

``That looks pretty depressing,'' said Bob Bowden, plant pathologist at Kansas State University.

The agency said Monday that 41 percent of the wheat was in fair shape, with 27 percent in good to excellent condition.

Kansas is the largest wheat-producing state in the nation, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.

Moderate temperatures and dry conditions continued during most of January. However, snow, sleet or freezing rain fell last week in most areas.

While the precipitation helped, the wheat remains drought-stressed with poorly developed root systems.

``A lot of wheat came up OK, but then the soil got very dry and it didn't get a chance to establish a root system before winter,'' Bowden said. ``It is under a lot of stress right now.''

Freeze damage has been light so far, with the latest report showing 7 percent of the acreage has moderate freeze damage and 25 percent light damage.

``Even if we do get the rains, I am not sure that is going to allow us to fully recover from the kind of weather we have had in this cropping year,'' Bowden said.

What also worries plant pathologists is that the very long and warm fall without rain made conditions ripe for the spread of barley yellow dwarf virus.

The virus, which also affects wheat, has already been found in some of tests, Bowden said. The virus can take as much as a third of the crop's yield potential.

Also of concern is the incidence of leaf rust and stripped rust this winter in Texas.

Spores can blow in the wind to Kansas, which saw its first ever stripped rust epidemic last year. That disease was blamed for reducing yields statewide by 7 percent last year.