wheat field

A wheat field from 2015 near the Montana/North Dakota border, pretty and green under a setting sun. This year's wheat is getting a later than average start. That could affect its yield and quality, particularly if it doesn't get up and growing within the next couple of weeks. Farmers can plant at a slightly higher seeding rate, and consider one of the early-maturing varieties, to helpcombat the detrimental effects of warmer weather on the crop.

Renée Jean | Williston Herald

Wheat is getting a late start this year, thanks to colder than average April temperatures. That’s not a big problem yet, but too much later, and the late planting dates could have implications for yields down the line.

That’s because warmer temperatures during the early vegetative stages of wheat’s growth cycle can reduce the number of tillers that wheat produces. The size of the spike can also be reduced by warmer temperatures.

NDSU Extension agronomists generally tend to recommend planting earlier, rather than later, for that reason.

Right now, the latest crop report shows spring wheat at 20 percent planted, well behind 41 percent last year, and behind the 38 percent average. Durum is 7 percent planted, behind last year’s 22 percent, and the 18 percent average.

The next couple weeks will be critical for farmers, according to Joel Ransom, NDSU extension agronomist.

“Later planting dates can push the grain filling period of the wheat crop into warmer times of the summer,” he said. “And the warmer than optimum temperatures can reduce the rate and amount of grain filling, which can also affect yields.”

Just how big an effect this will have depends on just how late the planting is.

“We are later than normal, but not late, late yet,” he said. “As we get into a couple more weeks, however, then we could start to see more risk of some of these detrimental effects.”

Ransom said producers can seed a little more than usual to help combat the issue of fewer tillers, and might consider an early variety, which tends to do better in late-planting scenarios than other varieties do.

An additional challenge that could contribute to late germination is lack of moisture. It’s been a dry spring so far, despite the snow melt, and that shows on the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map.

Williams County is still classified as experiencing abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions. The lack of moisture could further delay germination of this year’s wheat crop.

There was a chance for some rain overnight Monday, according to the National Weather Service, but not as much as other areas of the state are getting.

“Williston is not going to cash in on the best precipitation on this particular event,” said Bill Abeling, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “Right now we are still in a little bit of a dry pattern.”

The next chance of rain will be Thursday night, according to the National Weather Service forecasts, but that precipitation, too, is expected to be light, maybe a 10th of an inch or two.

“Over the course of the whole week, Williston might pick up a quarter of an inch of rain,” Abeling said.

May has so far been behind normal precipitation by about 3 tenths of an inch, and year-to-date, since Jan. 1, is about .17 inches below normal.

“We want to get as much precipitation now as we can for the May, June period, but so far, we are probably going to be a bit drier than normal as we go into the first and second week of May,” Abeling said.

Temperatures in May have so far been well above normal, which could contribute to continued dryness. The high Sunday, for example was 80, where 64 would be a more usual average. Dry tends to beget dry, Abeling said, and that could be the case this spring.

The long-range forecast is showing below normal chances of precipitation, while the eight to 14-day forecast is calling for near normal.

“There are no real, above normal precipitation patterns showing in that two to three-week period,” Abeling said.

The 30-day forecast, meanwhile, is showing equal chances for above or below normal precipitation, as is the 90-day forecast, for May, June and July.

Abeling said moisture tends to come from two sources for the region. Once plants start growing, there is some moisture produced from that, which can help make conditions favorable for rain. The other source generally comes in off the Gulf coast or sometimes the west coast.

“High-level moisture drawn in from parts of the Eastern Pacific, even though a good portion of moisture from there gets squeezed out of the air as it goes across the rockies, that high level moisture is important,” he said. “It creates ice crystals high up in the clouds, and that has a natural seeding effect.”

In the spring, the region generally gets some widespread precipitation that spans a two- to three-day period, so that makes that high-level moisture a generally important component of the system.

“(High-level moisture) makes precipitation form better,” Abeling said. “So it is kind of a combination of two, but the Gulf is our biggest source.”

Abeling said what the area could really use is a slow-moving, low pressure system moving in, which typically happens at least once in spring.

“Often times, that comes out of the northwest, and it will swing down through Colorado and then swing up into the Northern Plains,” he said. “But it moves very slowly, so that tends to pull Gulf moisture up into us and create widespread showers this time of year.”

That hasn’t happened so far yet this year, however.

“We’ve had some transient waves that produced hit and miss showers,” Abeling said, such as the rain Monday afternoon and into evening.

Those were the first decent chance for rain since the ground has thawed, but weren’t the slow-moving type.

“At this point, it’s nice to get almost anything though,” Abeling said. “We are still waiting for that real slow-moving, low-pressure system.”

Abeling jokingly suggested that everyone should make a few Memorial Day plans to help straighten out the rain pattern.

“That’s what usually helps,” he said. “When people have plans, it seems to rain.”

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