Virus devastates western Kansas wheat

Ehmke holds wheat infected with the virus.

LANE COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) — Winter wheat in southwest Kansas has endured drought, ice, and snow this season. The wheat that survived is facing another threat: wheat streak mosaic virus. It’s devastating crops in the region.

“We farmed here in Lane County for the past 40 or 45 years and I have never in my life seen an epidemic like we have right now,” said farmer Vance Ehmke.

Ehmke is one of many farmers in southwest Kansas struggling with the fast-spreading wheat streak mosaic virus.

“Those little mites just blow over and infect the other fields,” he said.

It’s wiping out entire fields. Ehmke says his loss is on par with losses across southwest Kansas.

“I’d say about 30 percent of the acreage in western Kansas has some level of infection.”

For him, that’s a loss of up to $200 thousand.

“God only knows how many millions of dollars of loss that is going to represent to the state and to all these individual farmers.”

This couldn’t come at a worse time for farmers.

“We have extremely low wheat price,” he said, “and it’s just very, very difficult to make a living, even with a decent crop.”

Many farmers have even planted fewer acres of wheat in favor of a more resistant crop like triticale.

Farmers can stop the spread by cutting volunteer wheat.

“The thing is you want the volunteer dead two weeks ahead of when you plant,” said Ehmke.

That will leave the virus without a host to infect, forcing it to die off.

The loss is profits for farmers will likely spread to other parts of the ag industry. Farmers will tighten their belts further and buy fewer pickups, herbicides, and other supplies.