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Wheat tour estimate is lowest in 18 years

By Larry Dreiling


The hard wheat evaluation tour sponsored by the Wheat Quality Council brings together people from around the world interested in the Kansas wheat crop. Among international scouts this year were two grain trade leaders from Brazil. Surveying a field near Marion, Kansas, are Jorge Karl (left), CEO of Co-op Agraria International, Parana, Brazil; and Walter Von Muhlen Filho, trader with Serra Morena Commodities, Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. (Journal photo by Larry Dreiling.)

Estimated production of the 2014 Kansas winter wheat crop was pegged at 260.7 million bushels, according to scouts on the 57th annual Wheat Quality Council evaluation tour April 29 to May 1.

The estimate, made by 55 participants who were part of a pool of 74 total scouts, is the lowest estimate since 1996. Last year’s production was 319.2 million bushels.

The tour made 587 field stops this year, compared with 570 a year ago. The calculated average for those 587 stops was 33.2 bushels per acre, compared to 41.1 bushels on the same routes in 2013.

Scouts use a formula, based on a 10-year rolling average, provided by the Kansas Field Office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service to arrive at their calculated average.

This reporter’s guess for the pool average was 255.3 million bushels.

Day one saw the 20 cars traveling on six different routes from Manhattan to Colby, Kansas. The wheat seemed pretty consistent on most routes in the central portion of the state, with the drought being very evident, said WQC Executive Vice President Ben Handcock.

“The Nebraska route found good wheat in the south central. As the routes moved farther west, the drought became even more evident,” Handcock said.


Bart George (left), an analyst with the Horizon Milling division of Cargill, Wayzata, Minnesota; and Trevor Coleman, grain buyer for West Plains Co., Kansas City, Missouri, survey a field south of Oakley, Kansas, during the 2014 hard winter wheat evaluation tour, sponsored by the Wheat Quality Council. The field merited a higher than expected calculated yield, though severe winterkill sent the scouts' eyeball estimate far lower. (Journal photo by Larry Dreiling.)

Yields for the day ranged from 16 to 64 bushels per acre, with a day one average of 34.7 bushels per acre on all routes to 271 fields.

The executives at wheat organizations in two other states described what they saw on separate tours of their areas when the tour made its first evening stopover, in Colby.

A group led by Darrell Hanavan, executive director of Colorado Wheat, scouted eastern Colorado and reported an estimated 2014 yield average of 32 bushels per acre and a total production of 80 million bushels. Nebraska Wheat Board Executive Director Royce Schaneman estimated that region’s production at 45 bushels per acre and total production at 67.5 million bushels.

On day two, the cars traveled from Colby to Wichita. Several cars went into the far western Kansas counties while three cars covered the northern tier of Oklahoma counties.

Scouts on the western Kansas portions of the tour reported the area as being still very dry but with yields comparable to the rest of the state. Cars scouting in Oklahoma found the lowest yields of the day in very dry fields.

The day two calculated average was 30.8 bushels per acre compared to 40.5 in 2013. The range of estimates varied greatly, from 7 to 63 bushels per acre on 271 stops.

The Oklahoma Wheat Commission offered a report presented by Mark Hodges, executive director of Plains Grains, Inc., who estimated that state’s production at 18.5 bushels per acre and a total production of 66.5 million bushels, the lowest production figure since 1957.

This compares with 115 million bushels last year.

“Our five-year average as of last year was 120 million bushels,” Hodges said. “That (66.5 million) number can go lower.”

Day three concluded the trip with the cars traveling from Wichita to Kansas City. It is a smaller production area that does not have a significant impact on the statewide average but is usually a high yielding area. On the 45 stops made, yields ranged from 18 to 56 bushels per bushel with the day three average pegged at 37.8 bushels per acre compared to 52.3 last year. This area did not fare much better than the rest of the state.

Handcock said the calculated average of 33.2 bushels per acre was an appropriate figure, but will likely be too high by the time August figures are released.

“Most of the state is still seriously short of moisture. I arrived in Kansas expecting to see the drought effects, and that’s what I saw,” Handcock said. “As the tour progressed, I became more convinced that the crop would be much lower than average.

“The 10-year average for Kansas is around 332 million bushels. Our estimate, at 260.7 million bushels, is well below that number, and I believe even that number is too high. I don’t believe I have ever seen wheat heading out at 8 to 12 inches tall. I split the stems and tried to count the number of rows of kernels and they were in the seven- to eight-kernel range, for the most part. In and of itself, this will likely result in 20 percent lower yields.”

With the heat and winds the crop has experienced, Handcock believed the crop has already lost some yield potential.

“If the kernels do fill, I would expect to see higher protein and lower test weights. This remains to be seen. At any rate, it will be very difficult to harvest, and probably won’t be destroyed due to the increased chances of wind erosion. It’s also too short to make a hay bale,” Handcock said.

“The producers in the western part of the state have a chance to have approximately the same yields as the rest of the state this year. The central part of the state usually makes up for some shortfalls elsewhere, but I don’t see that potential this year.”

Thirty-seven of the tour’s 74 participants were first-timers, Handcock said. This did not mean they all were inexperienced about surveying the wheat crop, since experienced scouts along their routes accompanied them.

“They reported learning a lot about wheat while having a good time doing it. 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,” Handcock said.

“Although I think we did a good 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. I was especially pleased to see four young producers on this tour. We need more of that.”

Handcock, as he does each year, offered the caveat to the data gathered on the tour.

“Please keep in mind that this whole tour is a snapshot in time regarding the potential of this crop,” Handcock said. “We always try to be close to the August USDA estimate, and we usually are.”

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

Date: 5/12/2014



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