The Kansas Wheat Commission has released the findings of the Wheat Quality Council’s Hard Winter Wheat Tour across Kansas which concluded in May. During the three days of wheat scouting, tour participants traveled six routes from Manhattan to Colby to Wichita and back to Manhattan. This year’s tour hosted 95 participants from 30 states and three countries.
The three-day average yield for the fields which were calculated during the tour was 37 bushels per acre. While an estimated 7.8 million acres of wheat were planted in the fall, most of Kansas has been in a severe drought since October. Tour participants saw wheat that was significantly behind schedule, with most areas three or more weeks behind normal development. Not only that, but the wheat is short, which will make harvesting it more difficult. Head size is determined right after the wheat comes out of dormancy, and most of the heads were small, which will negatively impact yields. Abandoned acres will likely be higher than normal.
The official projection for total wheat to be harvested in Kansas was 243.3 million bushels as of May. If realized, this would be about 90 million bushels less than last year’s crop and the lowest production in Kansas since 1989. This number is calculated based on the average of estimated predictions from tour participants who gathered information from 644 fields across the state.
Many tour participants had never stepped foot in a wheat field before. These are the millers, bakers, food processors and traders who buy the wheat which Kansas farmers grow. If these fields make it to harvest much of the resulting crop will go into breads. However, wheat supplies a number of other food items including cereals, snack cakes, donuts, seasonings, batters and coatings for fish, chicken, and appetizers as well as other applications.
Scouts reported seeing some disease pressure, mostly in the early stages, including some reports of stripe rust, leaf rust, barley yellow dwarf and wheat streak mosaic virus. The weeks of May into June were critical for the wheat crop. Dr. Romulo Lollato, Kansas State University Wheat Extension Specialist, reported that rains during that period could bring the below average crop nearer to the norm in some areas as they did in 2016. Despite the drought stress that year, grain fill conditions were very good.
In addition, scouts from Nebraska and Colorado met the group in Colby to give reports from their states. The estimate for the Nebraska’s wheat crop is 43.7 million bushels, down from 46.92 million bushels last year. The estimated yield average is 43 bushels per acre. In Colorado, the estimated yield was only 35 bushels per acre. Production in Colorado is estimated at 70 million bushels, down from 86.9 million bushels last year. Scouts from Oklahoma reported that the state’s production is estimated at 58.4 million bushels, which is half of a normal crop. While 4.1 million acres were seeded last fall, only 2.35 million acres are estimated to make it to harvest because of drought conditions, poor root systems, few tillers and small heads.