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Winning wheat

Good fall weather and adequate snowfall could lead to the second largest winter wheat crop in North Dakota since 1985 , despite North Dakota seeding 100,000 fewer acres compared to last year.

This year's winter wheat crop may rival previous years in being one of the highest since 1985.

A recent story by the Associated Press said North Dakota seeded 530,000 acres - 100,000 less acres than in 2008.

"In this area, part of the reason would be that soils were rather dry around seeding time," said Roger Ashley, Area Extension Specialist in Cropping Systems with NDSU Dickinson Research Extension Center. "Producers I think had difficulty getting their drill into the ground and getting to seed as much as they had intended to."

States like Kansas have also reported planting the fewest number of winter wheat acres in the past 52 years, a report by the National Agricultural Statistics Service reports.

Ashley said he noticed that some producers seeded beyond the normal Oct. 15 through Oct. 30 planting window, although there weren't many.

Despite planting less acres, North Dakota's 2009 winter wheat crop could be the second highest since 1985, according to NASS.

Ashley said he believes other parts of the state may be receiving a record crop, although it may be possible in the area as well.

"For the majority of the state they had plenty of moisture, but here in the western part of the state, we were below or well below normal moisture conditions," Ashley said. "Don't count it out though, with the moisture and the snow it will certainly improve winter wheat survival."

Last year, the area experienced severe dry conditions throughout the entire fall, winter and early spring, causing much of the winter wheat to become "freeze dried", he added.

"We lost plant standing there and vigor in the plants," Ashley said. "We didn't get a lot of moisture for soil recharge. There were some areas that got really good downpours of rain in the summer or early fall, but there are some areas that were extremely dry and are going to need that moisture in the spring."

This year, good snow cover and adequate moisture will help the crop, Ashley added.

Varieties such as Jerry, one of the latest released from the North Dakota State Winter Wheat Program, proves to be hardy enough to withstand the elements.

Millennium, a joint variety between South Dakota and Nebraska, is also a hardy variety, Ashley added.

Blake Vander Vorst, Regional Agronomist with Ducks Unlimited said in comparing this year with last year, winter wheat crops are looking to be better.

"A year ago in the central and western parts of the state we came in with very dry soil conditions," Vander Vorst said. "Germination was very poor and growth was very poor in that part of the state. Plus the residue there was very thin and very short, and in some places non-existent. The winter wheat now should be very good coming into spring if we don't lose those snow cover too early."

As for southwest North Dakota's winter wheat crop, only time will tell.

"It's got to be a lot better than last year, or at least the start will be a lot better than last year." Ashley said. "It just depends on timeliness of rains. to promote tillering and development."