Kansas wheat harvest looks to be poor one this year, ag experts say

07/01/2014 5:25 PM

08/08/2014 10:25 AM

Kansas has about reached the halfway point in its wheat harvest, which was already going to be lousy because of a nine-month-long drought but now has farmers fighting mud and weeds.

At this point, it still looks as if the state wheat harvest will be poor, although how poor remains to be seen. The rains that started about a month ago may have helped the late-ripening fields in the northern part of the state.

As of June 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast 244 million bushels and a yield of 29 bushels per acre, the worst since 1989. With the rain, that number may improve in the northern areas, said Aaron Harries, director of marketing for the Kansas Wheat Commission.

But for most of the state, the wheat was too far advanced to see much benefit. Some farmers, co-op managers and agriculture extension agents around the state on Tuesday reported seeing fields producing anywhere from 0 to 60 bushels per acre, but yields in the 20s and 30s were more typical.

Bill Haney, extension agent in Kearny County in western Kansas, said he had seen yields of between 2 bushels per acre and 35 bushels last week before combines were halted by the rain.

Ben McClure, who farms in southern Butler County, said he is seeing dramatic swings in yields, depending on whether a field got a little bit of rain at a key time or suffered frost damage. He estimated 35 to 40 bushels per acre across his operation.

“It’s kind of all over the board,” he said, “but it’s down quite a bit from last year.”

As of this weekend, the USDA rated the wheat statewide as 28 percent very poor, 33 percent poor, 27 percent fair, 11 percent good and 1 percent excellent.

Keith Becker, who farms near Galva in McPherson County, said the rain has made the harvest worse.

“The rain has taken its toll on test weights, and the weeds are taking over a lot of the fields,” Becker said.

Co-ops typically like wheat to test about 60 pounds per bushel. If it falls below 55 pounds per bushel or contains much other plant material, it becomes hard to sell.

Becker said this year’s swing between dry and drenched is all part of the business.

“We’re farmers; we’re supposed to be able to handle this,” he said.

Chris Long, agriculture agent for the Walnut Creek District, which includes Lane, Ness and Rush counties, said many of the farmers he’s talked to have already moved on mentally to the much brighter outlook for their corn, soybeans and sorghum crops. The rain has been crucial for getting those crops off to a strong start.

“A lot of guys know the wheat wasn’t much to brag about, so they’re getting it finished and getting on with the fall crops,” Long said. “The corn is shooting up, and the guys are pretty optimistic about what’s coming.

“The wheat was what it was, and they’re ready to get it behind them,” he said.

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