WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- Participants in the Kansas winter wheat tour are finding less freeze damage than had been expected during the first leg of this year's event.
Some 20 cars left Manhattan Tuesday morning before fanning out along six routes that will take them across the heart of wheat country before ending Thursday at the Kansas City Board of Trade where the group will announce their forecast for the 2013 winter wheat crop in Kansas.
Aaron Harries, the director of marketing at Kansas Wheat, took a route from Manhattan to Colby along Highway 36 across the northern counties where the wheat looked "very nice" in the central part of the state. But Smith County was a dividing line with little moisture further west as the group worked its way to Colby where they plan to regroup Tuesday night and compare notes.
"The condition of the crop is going downhill," Harries said in a phone call from Oberlin. "It is very dry out here and the stands are pretty thin."
The wheat is so far behind in development in Kansas that the freeze burned just the tips of the leaves since the heads had not emerged yet above ground.
Last year, the crop was three weeks ahead of schedule during the tour and participants then were counting wheat heads to estimate the size of the crop. This year the wheat is running five to six weeks behind when compared to last year so it is "pretty dramatically different," Harries said.
"This crop is going to be late to harvest unless we have a lot of hot weather," he said.
A bit further south, his colleague Dalton Henry, the director of governmental affairs for Kansas Wheat, took the route from Manhattan to Salina and along Highway 40 before ending up in Colby. He reported Tuesday that he saw a lot of pretty good wheat the first part of the trip. He could take his soil moisture probe and insert it 20-30 inches into the ground to check out subsoil moisture. But once his group crossed Highway 281 east of Hays things changed so much that the ground was so dry that it was tough to get the probe into the ground at all.
"That crop is living hand to mouth from one rain to another," Henry said.
Forecast yields varied from the low 20s bushels per acre to as high as 72 bushels an acre, he said.
"it really varied from one field to another, it varied from fields on opposite sides of the road from one another depending on when that crop was planted and what growth stage the crop was in," Henry said.
Extension wheat specialist Jim Shroyer said the crop is "kind of on the razor's edge" where if it gets some rain, people could still be pleased with the results come harvest.
"I wouldn't count everything out just yet," Shroyer said.