Leon Dunn knows wheat. The Kansas State Fair wheat exhibit champion and life-time Stafford County farmer said recent weather temperatures have area wheat plants confused, but don't count it out yet.
Wheat is a very stubborn crop. It works very hard to grow and produce. It’s the end of February and some of Leon Dunn’s wheat crop was trying to come up a couple of weeks ago. With the ups and downs of temperatures lately, it’s no wonder the wheat seems confused. But it’s never a done deal when it comes to growing wheat.
Dunn, a state fair champion wheat exhibitor from nearby Stafford County, didn’t plant as much wheat seed as he usually does because of rain in the fall.He only got 25 percent of his usual crop planted. Some of his neighbors went ahead and planted earlier than he did, and their stand didn’t look good at first, but now it’s looking pretty good, Dunn said.
In spite of the facts that rain kept him out of the field for three weeks in October and it snowed in November, Dunn remains optimistic.
“I think it will come on through. It was trying to come out of dormancy a couple of weeks ago,” Dunn said. “I’ve been around a long time. I’ve had wheat come up in February that made 50 bushel an acre. That’s foreign to everybody’s thinking.”
A couple of days ago, the temperature was 53 and before the day was over, it had dropped to 15. With that kind of temperature variation, wheat can try to come out of dormancy. That’s not good.
“The wheat doesn’t know if it is coming or going,” Dunn said. “I liken wheat to flies. You can’t kill all the flies; I don’t think you can kill all the wheat either.”
The cold temperatures, have brought some snow cover. That’s good. It did snow about an inch and a half on Saturday but the cold could have already done harm to the crop, Dunn said.
“It’s too early to tell if the crown has been damaged with that. It’s going to have to come out of dormancy for us to be able to tell that,” Dunn said.
Dunn heard a St. John old-timer once say that after Ground Hog Day, the ground starts warming from within. He said he sees no reason for wheat to come out of dormancy but his is trying to wake up.
Dunn likes to plant after Hessian Fly date on Oct. 5 because he doesn’t want wheat to tiller a lot. Now this seems to go against the usual planting philosophy but Dunn said from 50 percent to 70 percent of the wheat yield comes from the stem that grows from the seed. He doesn’t see a need to have five or six tillers competing for moisture and fertilizer for just 30 percent of the yield.
“We have had really good success with that,” Dunn said.
Dunn likes to plant Overley wheat, a variety that was very popular several years ago. He plants a lot of seed per acre and Overley is a variety that discourages tillering.
While his crop doesn’t look as good as he would like, Dunn has no plans to change varieties and will plant it again in the fall. That is, if he can find any to plant.
A couple of years ago, Kansas State University, that introduced Overley, ran out of foundation seed for the variety. But a producer was found who still provides seed and K-State said they would keep certifying the seed as long as it meets their standards, Dunn said.
Dunn works with his son Brian. They each have land of their own and share some. Dunn said they like to grow wheat and they work hard at it. They haul their wheat to the Stafford County Flour Mill to make flour.
“They have to have a good quality wheat to make good quality flour and Overley is a good quality wheat,” Dunn said.
Although other farmers prefer more recent varieties of wheat, Dunn said he will plant Overley again this fall.
“I’ll be planting Overley until we run out of seed or find a better one and I don’t think there is a better one out there,” Dunn said.
Another reason he likes Overley so much is that he took classes from Carl Overley at Kansas State University. The variety was named after him. Dunn was impressed with Overley as a crops instructor.
“If the wheat is as good as the instructor, it’s got to be good,” Dunn said.
Dunn took second place in Class Five at the Kansas State University Market Wheat Show in 2018 with Overley wheat. Between him and Brian, they have won first place four out of the last five years.
But for now, it’s very wet in Stafford County and Dunn is concerned about rust and other leaf disease associated with too much moisture.
“I think leaf diseases could be pretty serious,” Dunn said.
Like every year, farmers have to wait until the wheat is actually harvested to know if their hard work paid off. And even if the yield is good, they have to deal with grain markets.
“With the way the wheat market looks, it may not be all that bad we didn’t get it planted,” Dunn said.
Overley was named after Carl Overley, an associate professor of agronomy and foundation seed manager at Kansas State University for 41 years. The variety was unveiled at the KSU Fall Cereal Conference on July 31, 2003. Overley died on May 7, 2002.