The Kansas wheat crop is expected to produce 18 percent less than last year – down to at 260 million bushels – according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture annual May 1 forecast.
With harvest still four to five weeks away, the biggest reason for the forecast, which would be the worst harvest since 1996, is that wheat production in the state’s usually bountiful mid-section is projected to be way down.
Drought through much of the western and central parts of the state has cut estimates of both the number of acres to be harvested and the wheat per acre from last year’s strong harvest.
And Sedgwick County wheat farmer Kent Winter said that conditions have gotten worse since the May 1 forecast.
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Recent high winds and high heat accelerated the stress on the already parched plants, cutting the production of wheat kernels and threatening the lives of some plants.
“Not only are we are dealing with the lack of moisture, but we’ve had this blowtorch weather,” Winter said. “We’ve set several heat records in the last nine days.”
The USDA survey does foresee an increase in production in western Kansas, which has had terrible drought-damaged harvests for the last three years. But that forecast also comes with qualifiers, say experts.
The forecast increase this year is largely due to an increase in the number of acres harvested compared to last year when farmers didn’t bother to harvest thousands of acres of burned-up crops, noted Aaron Harries, director of marketing for the Kansas Wheat Commission.
The USDA is predicting that the number of acres that will be abandoned won’t be nearly as high this year, but that may not work out as hoped, said Joe Leibbrandt, agricultural agent for Grant County, in southwest Kansas.
It may have looked better on May 1 because the state got plenty of rain last fall when the wheat was planted. But since the beginning of the year, there’s been little moisture and the crop is struggling to the finish.
This year crop may be better than last year, he said, but only in the degree of awfulness.
“If you’re hit by a Category 3 tornado instead of a Category 5 tornado, it’s still a tornado,” he said.