Three farm officials agree that the overall acreage of fall wheat is down in Marion County and may be the lowest it has ever been.
Although he could not quantify exactly how much it is down, county extension agent Rickey Roberts said the reason for the decline in wheat acreage is simple.
“It’s all about money,” Roberts said. “Kansas is the number one wheat producing state in the union. Wheat has always been our staple crop but people can’t make money with it right now.”
Jeff Naysmith, an agronomist with Cooperative Grain and Supply in Hillsboro, estimated wheat acreage to be down 5 to 10 percent this fall.
“Wheat production has generally trended downward through time,” Naysmith said. “The main thing is people figure they could make more money on other crops.”
Paul Penner of Hillsboro, past president of the National Wheat Growers Association, said he planted less wheat this fall.
“I’ve rotated four fields that were supposed to go to wheat back to soybeans,” Penner said. “I’ve visited with other farmers that are doing the same and that’s what I’m hearing nationwide.”
Wet ground that was compacted and tracked up during corn harvest would have been more expensive to disk and plant with wheat than it was for him to plant soybeans in those fields again.
He said wheat genetics also contributed to the problem.
“The genetics are not there to be competitive,” Penner said. “Where corn and soybeans have been genetically modified strains, there are still no GMO [genetically modified organism] wheat strains.”
Conventional breeding in wheat crops seems not to be keeping up with GMO crops because GMO crops have superior heat and disease resistance and drought tolerance, which he said means GMO crops have a better chance to achieve a profit.
Penner, Roberts, and Naysmith all said they have never seen wheat acreage in the county and state drop so low before, and each had different ideas of what the trend might mean if it continues in the future.
“I don’t think it will affect crop rotation,” Naysmith said. “We are typically heavier on wheat acres here in the county and all of Kansas. Going to more corn and beans could actually be more profitable, or at least less painful, for farmers.”
He did not believe area farmers would ever move entirely away from wheat.
“With three crops — wheat, corn, and soybeans — there is less risk and more chance for success,” he said. “One might end up being a complete disaster but it is extremely rare for all crops to have disastrous results.”
Roberts pondered what it might mean if prices don’t rebound and this trend continues.
“I don’t think I have ever seen this kind of reduction in wheat acreage,” Roberts said. “It’s uncharted territory. For me as an ag educator, I have a lot of things running through my mind.”
If farmers begin planting more soybean and corn acres, he said a whole series of different variables could arise.
“I’m not saying it would happen but if it does our crop management may need to be different,” Roberts said. “There may be different bugs, different diseases, and different things to scout for that we may not have had to look for in the past.”
He wondered what it would take to get area farmers to where they can farm effectively in a new way.
“There may be some agronomic concerns,” Penner said. “[If the trend continues] I see farmer choosing to plant wheat as simply a rotational crop to break the disease cycle in other crops.”
Penner also showed concern considering the global wheat market.
He said the Ukraine and Russia compete with the United States as top exporters of wheat.
“A lot of nations are price conscious and buy the low quality wheat those two countries export,” he said. “Then they buy U.S. wheat to blend and raise the quality of the wheat. We grow quality wheat but we are becoming the second choice, and it seems to be a cycle we can’t break.”