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South Dakota State University research station manager eyes temps for cereal crops

Northeast South Dakota cereal crops were looking good in late July 2022 for the Agweek Cereal Crop Tour, but high winds and hot temperatures raised concerns for crops that started three weeks late and are three weeks behind in development during a critical head-filling time. The tour focused on condition sat the Northeast Research Station for South Dakota State University, at South Shore, S.D.

Oat flowers will become kernels.
Farmers in northeast South Dakota seemed to be planting more oats than other years, as the crop requires fewer inputs. Photo taken July 19, 2022, near South Shore, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek
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SOUTH SHORE, S.D. — Cereal crops are looking good for now in northeast South Dakota, but researchers and farmers are crossing their fingers that they won’t be harmed by hot spells that have been coming during critical head-filling weeks.

Al Heuer, station manager at the Northeast Research Farm at South Shore, South Dakota, stopped his work on July 20, 2022, for a visit with the Agweek Cereal Crop Tour. The experiment station held its annual field day on July 14, 2022, said that was a general trend for several counties around.

A farm manager stands, flanked by test plots of (from left) oats, spring wheat and winter wheat.
Allen Heuer, manager of South Dakota State University’s Northeast Research Research Station at South Shore, S.D., is flanked by cereal grains plots that account for about two-thirds of the station’s 130 acres. Photo taken July 19, 2022, near South Shore, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

The Northeast Experiment Station is northeast South Dakota’s primary cereal development station, where new varieties are for yield, protein, test weight and protein. Heuer said the farm has about 130 acres of crop research, of which about two-thirds is cereal grains. The primary work is in breeding and crop performance for oats and wheat — primarily spring wheat. (About one-third is in corn and soybean work.)

This year the experiment farm put its first seed in the ground on May 5, Heuer said.

“That’s about three weeks later, typically, than we’d want to get in, so we’re about three weeks behind in maturity," he said.

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The placard reads "South Dakota State University Northeast Research Station," flanked by the headquarters.
South Dakota State University’s Northeast Research Station, near South Shore, South Dakota, is a primary research site cereal grains for eastern South Dakota. Photo taken July 19, 2022.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Eyes on temps, rain

After starting planting May 5, the station received 5 inches of rain for the month. The weather then turned dry in June, with only on-half inch of rain, and then about 2 inches in July.

“We’re not above-average on rainfall, by any means, but now we’re getting hot and dry, so these crops are using a lot of moisture now,” he said.

In years with normal planting dates, the small grains crops get past July 1 without much stress. Rain is getting crucial to the row crops.

In late July, Heuer said there is a worry with small grains when it is this hot and windy during grain head filling. Heuer was hoping for a “decent” small grain crop. Typically, in the research farm area, farmers achieve wheat yields of 100 bushels per acre on a good year and oat yields of more than 150 bushels per acre.

Still-green spring wheat stalks are about two to three weeks behind schedule on July 19, 2022.
Spring wheat at South Dakota State University’s Northeast Research Station at South Shore, South Dakota, in late July 2022 had potential for good yield, but station managers were concerned about high temperatures and rainfall in August to finish the crop. Photo taken July 19, 2022, near South Shore, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Heuer thought spring wheat harvest was three weeks to a month out. Yields were “hard to say” in late July: “If we can catch another rain, it’d help the grain fill and now they’re talking forecasts a little cooler next week (starting July 24, 2022), that would help.”

Heuer said oats is becoming more popular.

“Oats is not a high-input crop to put in,” he said. “The price is good, so I think farmers are looking at the bottom line of what they can put in the ground and not have a huge input bill.”

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Heuer rated disease pressure as “light,” but noted some crown rust starting to show up in oat performance trials. Field day attendees commented that it was one of the windiest springs on record at the farm.

Winter whet is mostly turned from green to gold on July 19, 2022, and will likely be harvested within three or four weeks.
Winter wheat harvest appeared only a few weeks away in late July 2022 at the South Dakota State University’s Northeast Research Station at South Shore, South Dakota. Photo taken July 19, 2022.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

“It’s been, it seemed, like every day it’s been not just a breeze, but windy — 20 mph to 30 mph, sustained wind — which is very uncommon for that many days in a row and that many days in a month.”

Heuer noted that the research farm’s board of directors is all farmers.

“Nobody is out here fighting this alone,” he said. “We’re all in this together.”

High-tech weather

Heuer pointed to the station’s major new tool for getting up-to-date, complete facts on weather. In 2021 SDSU installed a new, high-tech “mesonet” weather station, a project in conjunction with the university and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

072222.AG.AgweekCerealCropTourNESD08
In late 2021, the South Dakota State University’s Northeast Research Station at South Shore, S.D., acquired its new equipment for the Mesonet at SDState, a “live” weather network with over two dozen stations serving the general public, agriculture, natural resources, emergency management and research. A precipitation gauge, left, collects precipitation year-round, using a precision scale that weighs it. The hanging “slats” deaden the wind to accurately collect snowfall. Photo taken July 19, 2022, near South Shore, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

The new stations are located on all of the state’s experiment stations, as SDSU, counterparts and cooperating agencies look to improve advice for farmers and others.

Nathan Edwards, manager for the mesonet, said 14 of the stations were installed in the state by the end of 2021. A total of 30 should be online by the end of 2022, as part of a system that involves North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota.

A new 33-foot-tall tower has several sensors for humidity, temperature, wind,
The Mesonet at SDState is new in 2021. This view includes, from left, an ultrasound device to measure the depth; a pyranometer meter to measure solar radiation (to calculate evapotranspiration); temperature and humidity and gauges at 6- 15- and 33-feet; wind speed; a humidity gauge, and a camera atop the solar panel at right. Height was added to better study temperature inversions. Information is updated every 5 minutes. Photo taken July 19, 2022, near South Shore, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

The goal, Heuer said, is to get an accurate weather station every 25 to 30 miles across the state. Among other things, the site measures conditions at 30 feet above ground, instead of 10 feet, and collects information on temperature inversions. Edwards said the system is seeking landowners (public and private) who are willing to host stations: https://mesonet.sdstate.edu/host . The project is in year-two of a seven-year installation.

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Heuer referred Agweek to researchers for specifics on projects involving research. Here is a quick overview:

Cereal studies

  • Winter wheat breeder Sunish Sehgal is working toward a release of hard winter wheat varieties that provide increased resistance to diseases like fusarium head blight and stripe rust, with excellent yield potential and good winter hardiness, along with desired end-use quality. Among the most recent hard red winter wheat from SDSU are "Winner" and "Draper" (2019), "SD Andes" (2020), and "SD Midland" (2021).  Fall-grown winter wheat has gained interest because it captures snow/moisture, keeps ground covered/reduces soil erosion, and its “living soil” builds farm sustainability.
  • Wheat Breeder Karl Glover is working toward a spring wheat variety that provides increased resistance to fusarium head blight. SDSU released "Driver" and "Ascend-SD" varieties in 2019 and 2021, respectively.
  • Oat breeder Melanie Caffe is working on developing milling and forage oat varieties with increased productivity and resistance to crown rust. The program released "Rushmore" and "SD Buffalo" oats in 2019, and 2021, respectively.
Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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