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Day 2 of the Virtual Wheat Tour, May 20, wrapped up with the chimes of participants logging onto the Zoom conference platform to hear the updates from the field. Once again, Aaron Harries, Kansas Wheat vice president of research and operations, moderated the call.

The final tally from reports submitted by volunteers in the field was a two-day potential yield average of 42 bushels per acre, which is just under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s May estimate of 47 bushels per acre for the state’s crop.

West central and southwest Kansas

Kansas State University Wheat and Forage Extension Specialist Romulo Lollato reported from a field just west of Greensburg, Kansas, after checking fields in the west central and southwest Kansas regions.

Lollato reported in the west central region many of the 19 fields he scouted himself were suffering from drought. He recorded potential yield estimates ranging from 18 bushels per acre to 65 bushels per acre.

“It’s important to remember that that is potential yield,” he cautioned. “It still needs rain to get there. Without rain, that 65 could be a 45 bushel field.” The average he recorded was about 40 bushels per acre for the day.

“It was a real mixed bag—sometimes you’d see a beautiful field and then the neighboring field is getting grazed out,” he added. Part of that he attributed to the cropping system.

“The fields planted right after corn are usually a later planting date and those fields are typically in tougher condition,” he said. “Fields that were planted after a fallow, typically we saw better potential.” Still, drought and freeze stress were really affecting the wheat crop along this part of the virtual tour.

The drought story continued and worsened on into the southwest portion of the tour. On eight stops in that region he saw a low of 10 bushels per acre yield potential in the west of Meade, Kansas. Going east, though, he started seeing yield potential tick up to 65 to 69 bushels per acre, which corresponds to the drought map.

“The average was 23 bushels per acre, which is very low because we saw field after field of short and headed out wheat because of drought,” Lollato said. The tour historically doesn’t travel to the farthest west counties of the state because of timing considerations, and this year the virtual tour stuck to that route because of so many reports of drought in those counties.

Gary Millershaski, Kansas Wheat Commission vice chairman, farms near Lakin, Kansas, and he echoed Lollato’s remarks and said farmers like him in the far western counties of the state thought they had a shot with last summer’s above average rainfall.

“Things looked really good until the middle of August, and the spigot shut off,” Millershaski reported. “To date, from the middle of August, we’ve only had about 3.9 inches of moisture. We’re dry.” That greatly affected the crop’s ability to emerge after planting in the fall, and develop a root structure that could help it come out of dormancy. Then, the April freeze events dropped yield potential even more because the early wheat planted lost tillers to the freeze.

“I think our county will see 30 to 31 bushels per acre,” Millershaski said. The drought even has farmers like him rethinking their summer crop strategies. Some farmers are already destroying failed wheat and turning to a summer crop, but there’s still not a lot of rain on the forecast quite yet.

Oklahoma

Much like the in-person Wheat Quality Council’s Hard Winter Wheat Tour, the Virtual Wheat Tour brings in reports from surrounding states at each afternoon update.

Mike Schulte, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, provided an update on the status of the Oklahoma wheat crop for the week of May 18. The numbers were already reported May 5 during the 40th annual Wheat Crop Report for the Oklahoma Grain & Feed Association. But Schulte provided an update with this week’s conditions.

In Oklahoma, the story is one of either drought and freeze damage to the western half of the state, or excess moisture in the eastern part of the state. And, in the case of the southwest region, hail came at the most inopportune time for the crop, devastating many fields. Some parts of the state were already seeing a decline of acres due to price and more acres were starting to be grazed out as well.

Schulte reported that Oklahoma harvest may start June 10 to 15, depending on the region, and officials estimate 2.9 million acres will be harvested, with an average potential yield of 33 bushels per acre for the state. That would bring in a 96.5 million bushel crop, he reported.

“USDA’s report had 2.7 million acres harvestable, with a 38 bushel per acre average yield, and that would mean a 102.6 million bushel crop for the state,” Schulte said. “Just based on state reports, we think USDA’s data is too high because it was reported and recorded by May 1. We’re just now starting to see actual damage now. We’ve talked to other crop consultants and we think it may look like more of an 85-90 billion bushel crop for the state right now.”

A reminder, pre-registration is required to access the live Zoom feed via www.kswheat.com. Each afternoon’s update will be recorded and posted at www.kswheat.com afterwards for the public to view.

Day 3, May 21, will cover the south central and central regions of Kansas and will also have a final estimate of the state’s wheat crop.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or jlatzke@hpj.com.

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