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Wheat tour guess pegged at 40.8 bushels

By Larry Dreiling

IS IT GRAIN YET?--Sterling Barnes (left), trader with Bartlett Grain at the Kansas City Board of Trade, and Lorrie Webster, Kansas City, Mo.-based agricultural marketing technician in the Commodity Management Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency, check some wheat heads at a farm east of Woodbine, Kan., for signs of grain development. Barnes and Webster were among more than 55 participants on the annual Kansas winter wheat evaluation tour conducted recently by the Wheat Quality Council. (Journal photo by Larry Dreiling.)

The 2009 Kansas wheat crop was estimated to yield 40.8 bushels per acre compared to 43.3 bushels on the same routes in 2008, according to scouts on the 52nd annual hard winter wheat tour of the Wheat Quality Council.

This compares to the estimate of 40 bushels per acre estimated May 12 by the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service.

While the WQC scouts estimated the wheat crop at 333.3 million bushels, KASS has estimated the crop at 340 million bushels from 9 million planted acres and 8.5 million harvested acres.

"I think our scouts did a great job in estimating the crop," said Ben Handcock, WQC executive vice president. "I said at the end of the tour the numbers were right on and they were accurate to within eight-tenths of a bushel. Pretty good."

The crop estimate for the WQC tour is based on the guesses of 52 participants who joined a pool for their guesses (Full disclosure: This reporter estimated the crop at 317 million bushels).

"For the first time in a long time, we are not worried about moisture shortages in most parts of Kansas," Handcock said. "We saw a fair amount of wheat that just recently received pretty good precipitation, however. Many of those fields have lost tillers due to the dryness, but are showing decent recovery.

"The jury is still out on how well they will yield. There are some areas where the wheat is very short and immature at this stage. When the hot weather arrives in Kansas, these fields may not fill well and may have lighter test weights."

There is the barley yellow dwarf issue to contend with in the usually high-yielding area of the state, Handcock said, with some of the flag leaves severely infected and wheat heads not yet starting to fill.

"The good news is that most of the crop appears to be very healthy and has that good dark green color," Handcock said. "We also saw very little severe freeze damage and most of the crop seems to be recovering from that incident rather nicely. We have some producers concerned about leaf rust, but this would not appear to be a huge issue overall.

"I was very pleased with the almost total lack of weed pressure in the areas I traveled. I believe this is about an average Kansas wheat crop, the 10-year average being about 348 million bushels. Our estimate is about 15 million less, but 15 million bushels can be picked up very quickly with good weather."

Handcock wanted to remind readers that the tour estimate is a snapshot in time regarding the potential of this crop. He credited the tour scouts with being thorough, as the total number of field stops was 459 compared to 388 one year ago. Most had come prepared to walk muddy fields in their scouting.

"About half of our group was first-timers. They reported learning a lot about wheat while having a good time doing it," Handcock said. "The value of this exercise is the people you meet and the friends you make and keep in contact with over the years to come. Although I think we did a fine job of estimating the crop potential, that really takes a back seat to the real value of the tour. This was truly a very diverse group of very nice people."

Day One saw 15 cars traveling on six different routes from Manhattan to Colby. The wheat seemed especially good on the northern routes this year. There is a north to south strip in central Kansas that has some barley yellow dwarf problems mentioned by many cars.

The Nebraska area and the area closer to Colby has the best wheat that tour participants have seen on those routes in some time. Yields for the day ranged from 13 to 89 bushels per acre at 215 stops with the Day One average on all routes at 41.3 bushels. This compares with 45.4 bushels one year ago.

Day Two had cars traveling from Colby to Wichita. Several cars went into far western Kansas counties and three cars actually covered the northern tier of Oklahoma counties. The western Kansas area has the best potential for a good wheat crop in several years, scouts said. They have had adequate moisture lately, but certainly not surplus.

Scouts reported seeing Russian wheat aphids in some fields, and this might be a continuing problem for producers in that region of the state. The cars traveling through the central part of Kansas saw the barley yellow dwarf again. The Day Two average was 39.8 bushels per acre compared to 40.9 in 2008. Yields ranged from 13 to 90 bushels per acre at 212 stops.

Day Three concluded the trip with the cars traveling from Wichita to Kansas City, making just 32 stops on the shortened day. This smaller production area does not have a significant impact on the statewide average, but is usually a high-yielding area.

Yields ranged from 20 to 67 bushels with the Day Three average at 43.7 bushels per acre compared to 43.3 last year. There seemed to be a surplus of topsoil moisture in the entire area.

Oklahoma Wheat Commission officials joined their Kansas neighbors in Wichita to give the results of their state survey. The production this year in Oklahoma will be dramatically reduced, due to drought and freeze damage. They reported 5.2 million acres planted last fall, but huge areas will not be harvested. Oklahoma is expecting the average to be around 20.3 bushels per acre and total production to be 77 million bushels compared to 167.5 million last year.

The Oklahoma Agricultural Statistics Service estimate is 80.5 million bushels with a harvested acreage estimate of 3.5 million acres and an average of 23.0 bushels per acre.

Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117 or by e-mail at ldreiling@aol.com.

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