This Hard White Wheat Special Edition of the Kansas Wheat Harvest Reports is brought to you by the Kansas Wheat Commission, Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, Kansas Grain and Feed Association and the Kansas Cooperative Council.
Hard white (HW) winter wheat varieties continue to be popular among some western Kansas farmers for their high yields, disease resistance and quality. The biggest challenge for hard white is market liquidity and continuity of trade into the marketplace. Kansas Wheat continues to work with the grain handling industry and Federal Grain Inspection Service to revise the grain standards to facilitate the movement of hard white wheat in domestic and international markets and lessen the burden on grain handlers. For additional information on Kansas Wheat’s comments submitted to FGIS, visit https://www.federalregister.
Hard white winter wheat is very similar to hard red winter (HRW) wheat apart from a gene impacting the color of the outer bran coat. It can be used for stand-alone whole wheat products with a lighter color or can be used interchangeably by mills with hard red winter, depending on protein and extraction needs.
Hard white wheat had been growing in export demand, primarily to Nigeria out of the Texas Gulf, but the past two years of drought-stricken production shortfalls have impacted that business for Kansas farmers.
Joe is the top seeded variety in west central Kansas, making up 14.3 percent of planted acres. Hard white wheat varieties also make up 11.4 percent of acres in southwest Kansas. Overall, hard white wheat was seeded on 4.7 percent of Kansas’ 8.1 million acres, accounting for 380,700 acres seeded to hard white wheat in the fall of 2022. In these areas, the multi-year drought caused many seeded acres to be abandoned, including an estimated 60% of Kansas’ dryland hard white wheat acres.
In addition to Kansas, hard white wheat is also grown in Colorado, Nebraska and California. The U.S. Wheat Associates Hard White Wheat Committee estimates U.S. total hard white wheat production to be just over 17 million bushels this year.
Overall, the quality of this year’s hard white wheat crop is excellent. While southwest Kansas had to abandon many acres, hard white wheat production increased in areas to the north.
Eric Sperber from Cornerstone Ag in Colby says they’ve taken in four times the hard white wheat they got last year. At this point, hard white is making up about 40 percent of their bushels.
“It’s a lot more than I was anticipating,” said Sperber. “It has been a number of years since we dumped this much white wheat.”
Overall, the quality of this year’s hard white wheat in the Colby area is comparable with the hard red winter, with test weights ranging from 57 to 60 pounds per bushel, with the average ending up on the lower end with the delayed harvest. Earlier-harvested wheat had higher test weights, but they’ve decreased after last week’s rain. Proteins consistently averaged 12.5 percent.
Sperber says Cornerstone is trying to find demand in the market for hard white, as there is currently no international demand. U.S. wheat is priced out of the market. Even if hard white wheat was competitive, other classes are higher priced than international competitors’ prices, so loading a vessel to Nigeria with multiple classes is not an option.
He reports that one large producer in the area was seeing better than 80 bushels per acre yields on hard white variety Joe, from the Kansas Wheat Alliance. The dryland field was planted after corn. Average yields in the area on all hard wheat ranged from 25 bushels per acre on hail-damaged wheat to 70 bushels per acre.
Another producer used Joe as a wheat streak mosaic virus deterrent by planting it around the edges of his hard red winter wheat field. Instead of harvesting the two classes separately, he harvested them together, thinking there wouldn’t be much hard white in the load. Unfortunately, Cornerstone had to classify this as wheat of other classes, resulting in a lower price than either HRW or HW alone. Even with their genetic and end use similarities, it is still important for farmers and grain handlers to keep it segregated to avoid grain grading issues.
Rick Horton of Leoti reports that the newest hard white wheat variety, KS Big Bow, is outyielding its predecessor, Joe, by four to five bushels per acre on his farm in west central Kansas. KS Big Bow was released by Kansas State University in 2022, is marketed by Kansas Wheat Alliance, and will be available to farmers this fall.
Horton says KS Big Bow has the potential to outyield Joe even more, as it was planted with a low population on his farm due to limited seed availability last fall. He says it could be up to 15 bushels per acre above Joe’s yield.
In addition, Horton says KS Big Bow is a stronger plant with better standability and better grain quality, calling it a “better version of Joe.”
Protein was averaging 13.3%, about one percent higher than Joe, and test weights remained at 60 pounds per bushel, even after multiple rains on it. He started to see a little bit of sprout damage on Joe after the rains, but none on KS Big Bow. The harvestability was good, with no shatter.
Compared to Joe, KS Big Bow has improved yield, drought tolerance, straw strength, sprouting tolerance and better baking quality. KS Big Bow also has wheat streak mosaic virus resistance, stripe and stem rust resistance similar to Joe.
The Horton family started harvest on July 4, about a week later than normal, was kept out of the fields for several days due to rain, and wrapped up on July 19. They didn’t destroy many acres, but kept some of the fields that should have been destroyed for seed. Wheat barely came up in the fall, but a .20 to .30 inch rain after planting helped it emerge. While this has been a late harvest because of cool temperatures, Horton says this year’s crop had the “best finishing weather.”
Stewart Whitham, also from Wichita County, grows 100% hard white wheat varieties: two-thirds of his wheat acres were planted to KWA’s Joe and the other third are PlainsGold’s Breck this year. His wheat is half dryland and half irrigated.
He reports that by May, half of their wheat had been abandoned, due to the drought it suffered over the winter. Even with decent stands in the fall, the wheat did not grow after its initial fall tillering.
Whitham started test cutting on July 4, but a storm came in that evening and kept him from starting harvest until July 9.
With these storms have come hail, which has destroyed another 20 percent of Whitham’s wheat crop.
While his harvestable acres have been cut back to only 30 percent of what was planted last fall, Whitham is seeing good quality characteristics for this year’s hard white wheat crop. Test weights have been hanging in there, even after recent rains, at 59 to 60 pounds per bushel. Protein levels are strong, and yields are about two thirds of what he would typically expect. Whitham has seen no sprout damage in his fields as of yet, a strong testament to recent genetic improvements in hard white wheat varieties. Sprout damage would have been eminent in older hard white wheat varieties.
Both varieties have been good for Whitham, and he plans to grow them again next year. He also plans to add the newest hard white wheat variety from Kansas Wheat Alliance, KS Big Bow. His acres will remain about the same this fall. He said Breck has a little better standability than Joe, but they were both good, healthy plants with no disease pressure.
All Whitham’s hard white wheat is stored on his farm and is marketed directly to flour mills or grain companies as is warranted by demand. Unfortunately, Whitham says demand is currently stagnant across the world and it is tough to create a marketing plan with current market volatility. He emphasized the need to increase both international and domestic demand when it comes to hard white wheat.
As with others in the area, Whitham is fighting weed pressure and weather events to get his harvest wrapped up.
Ron Suppes who farms in Lane County has all hard white wheat, namely two Kansas Wheat Alliance varieties, Joe and KS Silverado.
He had to destroy 32 percent of his planted acres due to the drought. The remaining acres are averaging about 20 bushels per acre. He noted that Joe weathered the drought better than KS Silverado. Average test weights for his farm are 58 to 58.5 pounds per bushel, and protein is averaging 15 percent.
Suppes began wheat harvest on July 17, nearly a month later than his normal start date of June 20. Scattered rain events and humidity kept the wheat from drying down until mid-July. But Suppes noted that unlike other areas in the state that have received a year’s worth of moisture in the last two months, his area has only received 5 to 14 inches from one end of the farm to another, and the soil profile remains short.
He’s fighting weed pressure from kochia as well as noxious weeds like bindweed. He has given up on producing any seed wheat this year.
“This has been an exceptional year, and I don’t mean good,” Suppes said, noting that it is costing more to harvest the wheat than it is worth. “We have to keep wheat in our rotation,” he said.
Suppes markets his hard white wheat to mills in Kansas, South Dakota and North Carolina.
U.S. Wheat Associates produces an annual Crop Quality Report that includes grade, flour and end-product data for all six U.S. wheat classes. The 2023 Annual Wheat Quality Report will be available at uswheat.org.
The 2023 Harvest Report is brought to you by the Kansas Wheat Commission, Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, Kansas Grain and Feed Association and the Kansas Cooperative Council. To follow along with harvest updates on Twitter, use #wheatharvest23. Tag us at @kansaswheat on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to share your harvest story and photos.