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Farmers fight to head off wheat diseases

Staff writer

Crop production scouts from ag service providers in the county began finding stripe rust in some wheat fields several weeks ago.

As a result, some area farmers elected to have fields sprayed with a fungicide to prevent the disease from devastating the crop or reducing the yield.

In addition to ground sprayers provided by ag service providers, farmers had the option this year for the first time to use an aerial sprayer based at the Marion airport to apply the fungicide.

Marion County extension agent Ricky Roberts said stripe rust was prevalent in Texas and Oklahoma this year, and rust spores spread into Kansas on the wind. He said cool, damp conditions cause rust to thrive. If the rust stays in the lower leaves, the plant can still be productive, but if it affects the flag leaf out of which the head emerges, it can devastate the crop.

Roberts said he has received numerous calls from farmers, asking him whether they should spray their wheat. He said it’s a complicated decision based on the weather forecast, the price of wheat, and how good the farmer thinks the crop is.

“The decision to spray or not is much more difficult this year than in the past few years,” he said.

Alan Hett of Marion, his brother Neal, and an uncle, Clifford Hett, sprayed more than 1,000 acres of wheat with fungicide. Earlier, they sprayed for weeds and added fertilizer and micronutrients. They have their own sprayer.

“We figured we’ve already put so much into it that spending a little more would be worth it,” Alan Hett said. “Rust can rob you of 20 bushels to the acre pretty fast.”

Phil Timpken of Mid-Kansas Co-op in Peabody estimated about one-fourth of the farmers in the area sprayed for wheat stripe rust. Fields were wet from five to six inches of rain in the past month, so they used aerial spraying. He said Mid-Kansas Co-op has its own limited liability company that provides aerial service.

Jeff Naysmith, crop production employee at Cooperative Grain and Supply, said the Everest wheat variety popular in the area is susceptible to stripe rust.

“With Everest, it could be devastating,” he said. “Spraying is always kind of a crapshoot. If conditions are right for stripe rust, money spent on spraying could return two or three times.”

Naysmith figured not more than 15 percent of the fields in the co-op’s service area were sprayed.

“It depends on the variety, the canopy, and the yield potential,” he said. “Most of the crop looks pretty good.”

Roberts said farmers might have chosen not to spray because of the low wheat price or thinner stands, making it not worth the extra cost of around $20 per acre. He said a field would have to yield four or five additional bushels per acre to justify the cost.

The wheat crop is further behind in the northern part of the county. It also has received less rain than other parts of the county. Roger Will of Agri-Producers Inc., Tampa, said scouts haven’t seen much evidence of wheat leaf rust so far, but some farmers are spraying the crop as a preventive measure.

Matt Orth is the owner and operator of Central Ag Air LLC. He launched his business in April. He was busy for a week and a half spraying fungicide on wheat fields in the central Kansas area. He said he sprayed fields around Hillsboro and Moundridge.

On Thursday, he was working in the Hope area. His plane, named Thrush, holds 500 gallons of spray mix. With an application rate of five gallons per acre, he was spraying 100 acres per trip from his launch pad at the Marion airport.

Last modified May 7, 2015

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