Wheat tour forecasts 313 million-bushel crop
By Larry Dreiling
The 56th annual Kansas hard red winter wheat evaluation tour has estimated that the state could harvest 313 million bushels, down from last year’s estimate of 402.8 million bushels and the U.S. Department of Agriculture actual total of 382.2 million bushels.
The Wheat Quality Council conducts the tour, held this year in a growing season marred by relentless drought in western counties and late spring freezes.
(Reporter’s note: This reporter’s estimate was 273.8 million bushels.)
The WQC forecast, announced at the Kansas City Board of Trade, also pegged the average yield in the state at 41.1 bushels per acre, compared with the WQC estimate of 49.1.
About 80 people fanned out in 20 cars across the state April 29 to May 2, making 570 stops at wheat fields during the tour.
They encountered weather as extreme as the conditions in which they found the crop out in the fields. The tour began in balmy temperatures in Manhattan, encountered gale-force winds and pouring rain in south-central Kansas, and ended in a snowstorm by the time the group reached Kansas City.
“Some of the weirdest weather I have ever seen in the last three days,” said Aaron Harries, director of marketing for the industry group Kansas Wheat.
“We’re looking at wheat that is six weeks later than it was a year ago,” said Ben Handcock, WQC executive vice president. “It’s almost impossible for people to imagine how little, how immature, this wheat crop is. I’ve never seen it like this. I don’t think until now I’ve ever seen wheat in Wichita, Kan., that wasn’t headed at this time of the year.
“If we had had enough moisture in Kansas that very late maturing wheat would have recovered completely, but it’s not recovering completely, it’s recovering a third or less. If we hadn’t had the drought, certainly, we’d be in better shape. It’s certainly caused us more grief than the freeze. The drought is more significant than the freeze.”
Enumerators said the story of this year’s Kansas wheat crop is actually a story of two very different winter wheat crops—divided by a line that runs roughly from Hays to Dodge City.
West of that line there is almost a complete absence of both topsoil and subsoil moisture. The two tiers of extreme western Kansas counties are a “borderline disaster” with terribly thin stands and some fields already completely brown.
“The general feeling is that the bad parts are worse than we expected,” Harries said. “It is clearly two crops and I think most of us underestimated how bad it was in western Kansas.”
Handcock added, “The best part of the crop is in the central part of the state. In south central Nebraska, we saw good wheat, too. From central Oklahoma all the way up to Nebraska, the center of these states look pretty good. The west is the worst. It’s pretty bad.”
Dalton Henry, director of governmental affairs for Kansas Wheat, said farmers told them that crop insurance adjusters have already been writing off fields in western Kansas.
Wheat fields east of Garden City were greening up more, but probes stuck into the ground showed those fields were still lacking soil moisture.
By contrast, wheat crops in south-central Kansas looked good and fields were well saturated with sufficient moisture. The tour group encountered water standing in fields in parts of central and east-central Kansas. They drove through a snowstorm around Hillsboro in central Kansas.
“Someone reminded us on the tour that 27 percent of the (wheat) crop is grown in south-central Kansas on average—and that is where the wheat looks the best right now,” Harries said.
While the late spring freezes did do some obvious damage, that was mostly superficial because the crop is so far behind that the wheat heads had not yet emerged.
“A lot can happen between now and harvest—that is particularly true this year because the crop is so far behind,” Harries said.
If May temperatures get into the 80s and 90s this winter wheat crop in Kansas is going to be in big trouble, he said. Farmers here need a cool, wet May to finish out the crop.
“There is some really good wheat out there, but if it doesn’t get any moisture in the next six weeks, it’s not going to be very good,” Handcock said. “I’m also worried about another freeze, obviously. The last thing we need is another freeze.”
The start of this year’s winter wheat harvest is about 45 days away.
Reporters from other states attended evening gatherings to tell Kansas enumerators of reports from their states.
From Colorado, Darrell Hanavan, executive director of Colorado Wheat, delivered an estimate for his state of 59.8 million bushels at an estimated yield of 34 bushels per acre on 2.2 million planted acres.
Yields are seen as so poor, Hanavan said, that Scott Haley, Ph.D., wheat breeder at Colorado State University, has decided to abandon five of his 11 test plots he monitors each year. Those plots are all south of Interstate 70.
“We drove 100 miles on this tour with no need for stops, because there was no wheat to be seen,” Hanavan said. “The highlight of the trip was crossing into Kansas to see how much worse the crop there is.”
From Nebraska, Caroline Brauer, public information officer of Nebraska Wheat, said her state was estimating a crop of 30 bushels per acre on 1.4 million planted acres.
From Oklahoma, Mike Schulte, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, said his state’s current wheat crop estimate 25.45 bushels per acre with an estimated production of 85.583 million bushels, a far cry from last’s year 154.8 million bushels of production.
“This is an optimistic number,” Schulte said. “I’m afraid given the wrong conditions, it could just burn up.”
Schulte said the current state of the Oklahoma crop is in pre-boot to boot, with almost none of it headed.
“Every year is odd,” Schulte said. “Some odder than others.”
Roxana Hegeman of The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.