The verdict is still out on how well wheat and canola will bounce back from a late April blizzard that ravaged parts of Southeastern Colorado and Western Kansas, but grain quality in particular could take a hit.

The verdict is still out on how well wheat and canola will bounce back from a late April blizzard that ravaged parts of Southeastern Colorado and Western Kansas, but grain quality in particular could take a hit.

Gathering on the edge of Garden City for Kansas State University’s Southwest Research and Extension Center field day, visitors like Kelly McCollum, an agronomist with Servi-Tech Inc., were eager to hear fellow agronomy experts assess the crops’ prospects.

Many of her clients probably dodged the worst impacts of the storm, she said.

“We had 6 to 8 inches of snow that laid it down, but it stood back up,” she said of the wheat around Dodge City. “I think the snow we got was so moist it didn’t break the wheat.”

Kinked and damaged stems have emerged as the most critical factor determining what will happen to the crop between now and harvest.

Some wheat might appear unusually short from the road, but on closer inspection the plants likely have two or three kinks in each stem, said Romulo Lollato, Kansas State’s wheat extension specialist. “It’s like an elbow resting on a table,” he said as he held up sample plants with stems bent at awkward angles.

Even if the head continues to fill, stem damage could restrict its development, he said.

“That kink hurts the translocation of nutrients from the stem up to the head,” Lollato said. “We could possibly see lower test weights as a consequence of the snowfall.”

A.J. Foster, southwest area agronomist based at Garden City, said farmers had told him the last time the area experienced widespread kinked stems the crop had indeed come in low for test weight and protein.

In developing heads, protein fill happens first, followed by the accumulation of starch, Lollato explained. Last year, even when the protein content was adequate, the starch accumulation was so great it tended to push protein percentages down.

Wheat marketers have already expressed concern about how another year of low protein wheat could weigh on an existing glut of old crop grain.

As heads fill and become heavier, another question is whether the damaged stems will topple over. “We still don’t know,” Lollato said. “We’re kind of learning on-the-go this cropping season.”

Winter canola is showing similar problems with weakened stems and plants lying flat, according to Michael Stamm, K-State’s canola breeder.

“It’s an indeterminate crop, which means it will regrow. The stands always seem to even out eventually,” he said. “But there’s going to be some immature seed out there, especially after the blizzard. A desiccant can help bring that into balance.”

Spraying a desiccant dries down the crop to make it more uniform. Farmers can get docked for having too much green seed in harvested loads.

Straight cutting with a combine has become the preferred method for harvesting canola in recent years, Stamm said, but swathing it first is another option, one that can be especially beneficial when it is difficult to get harvest done in a timely manner.

Following 10 years of experimentation at the station, canola is proving to be a viable rotational crop overall, according to cropping systems specialist John Holman. He identified several factors critical to improving the crop’s winter survivability, including planting early in September at a shallow seed depth of around one-half inch, managing residue to keep it from impeding seedling emergence, using split applications of nitrogen to prevent overgrowth in the fall and selecting winter hardy varieties.

The crop is being grown successfully as far west as Eastern Colorado, most commonly under limited irrigation, Holman said.

Farmers can choose between open pollinated varieties and hybrids. As with other crops, hybrids are popular because of the performance boost from hybrid vigor, Holman said. However, many canola hybrids were developed in Europe and aren’t well suited to the Central Plains climate.

Looking ahead to harvest, one thing that is certain for both wheat and canola across Western Kansas this year is that getting the crops out of the field will be more difficult and time consuming than usual.

“Harvesting is going to be a challenge for either crop,” Foster said. “It’s going to be a slow process.”