• Last modified 1226 days ago (March 10, 2016)


Walking the fields and reading the wheat

Staff writer

There is a relatively new agronomist out there walking between the rows, interpreting the growth of Marion County crops.

Andy Kelsey, 25, started with Cooperative Grain and Supply about a year ago.

He became interested in crops while working for a farmer when he was in high school, and when he attended Kansas State University he found his calling in crops.

“I’m always learning,” Kelsey said. “I go wherever the job takes me.”

That would be all over the county to any number of farms and fields. He visits out-of-county fields, too.

His goal as an agronomist is to help farmers maximize profit and crop yield.

“You can never beat having somebody out in the field,” Kelsey said.

Kelsey said agronomists like him also try to help farmers protect their crops’ potential.

He checks soil fertility and makes sure farmers’ field management is “up to snuff.”

He also provides farmers with up-to-date resource materials.

When assessing a field he considers a multitude of factors, including but not limited to soil composition, nutrient and moisture levels, plant size and color, and number of tillers per plant.

Tillers are lateral shoots at the base of the main stem of a wheat plant.

Better-performing wheat is “taller and more lush” than other plants, he said and produces upwards of eight tillers per plant this year.

Even though some late-planted wheat looks “decent,” Kelsey said many double crop fields are a little behind the rest, better-looking fields likely were planted early.

Walking the fields, he watches for distressed areas. When he finds stress indicators, he searches for reasons why that area suffers.

Kelsey assesses plants’ color for various clues to crop health, or dormancy, and pulls up some plants to check root development.

Kansas State University is a good resource, he said, for checking on crop diseases that might be encroaching on the area. However, outside resources are not necessarily a “cure-all.”

“Last year, when all the stripe rust came through, it was already here before there were online notices,” Kelsey said.

Sometimes he takes samples and sends them to a lab for a nutrient analysis.

“Guys get to see what nutrients are in the plant, and we use what we learn to see what might need to be applied to fields,” Kelsey said.

County farmers are also starting to use more varieties of wheat.

“There are too many to mention,” he said. “The county is branching away from just using one or two varieties, which makes what I do a little more difficult.”

However, Kelsey tries to help farmers pair the best possible wheat variety with the compositions of their fields.

Kelsey said this year has the possibility to be a good year for wheat.

“There’s a lot of variability,” Kelsey said. “Many factors go into it, but I’m seeing good potential out there.”

As for predicting the outcome of this year’s wheat crop, a lot depends on the weather.

“[As an agronomist] you can have a good idea on how crops will perform but ag is so weather-based and you can’t ever predict the weather,” he said.

Last modified March 10, 2016