April 21, 2018

Kansas looks back at the May blizzard of 2017

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Photo taken during Winter Storm Ursa at the WestBred wheat trial farm in Edson, Kansas.

April of 2018 has already had a record amount of snowfall in the Northern Plains. For spring wheat, blizzards and snowstorms can delay planting, the timing of which is a crucial consideration. For winter wheat that’s getting ready to elongate, snow can weigh down on wheat, breaking straw on varieties that haven’t been developed to withstand such pressure. Plus, snow often brings cold temperatures, a threat to winter wheat that has jointed.

But while the Northern Plains may get snow into April with some frequency, few expect a blizzard to descend in May, especially in the High Plains of Kansas.

But in May of 2017, that's exactly what happened.

On May 1, 2017, Winter Storm Ursa dropped anywhere from 6 inches to as much as 21 inches of snow in some parts of Kansas. Not only was the sheer amount of snow something farmers had to contend, but the temperature stayed below freezing for three to four days straight.

Experts in the wheat industry predicted that over 40% of the state of Kansas’ winter wheat crop could be lost.

Tyler Ediger, a grower and seed supplier from Meade, Kansas, spoke at length about how his farm dealt with the snow’s pressure while visiting Commodity Classic 2018 in Anaheim, California.

“We had the blizzard May 1 on our wheat,” Tyler recalled. “Laid it down flat.”

But Tyler said his WB4303 stood up to the pressure of the unexpected snowfall.

“One thing WestBred [wheat] does a really good job at is breeding varieties with straw strength, and we like that because we can push them,” Tyler explained.

“And so, we'll put the nitrogen to them, and all the nutrients it needs, and not worry about it going down.”

Tyler’s performance was good enough to enter the National Wheat Yield Contest and place second in the state of Kansas. “We suffered a little loss there but obviously not enough to take us out of the contest,” Tyler said.

Exceeding expectations was a common theme for Tyler and his WestBred wheat customers coming out of Winter Storm Ursa. Tyler sold the variety, WB-GRAINFIELD, to his customer, Brandon Friesen, who went on to place first nationally with 115 bushels/acre in the dryland winter wheat category of the National Wheat Yield Contest.

Tyler said his WB4303 and Friesen’s WB-GRAINFIELD “were both varieties that we planted, intending for those to be in the contest because we knew the potential that they had.”

For more information about the National Wheat Yield Contest, check out this page. If a snowstorm has got your wheat down, look at our varieties with excellent straw strength and winter hardiness.

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