Kansas wheat trek finds most fields maturing early

05/02/2012 5:00 AM

05/02/2012 7:27 PM

Participants in the annual Kansas winter wheat tour observed drought-stressed wheat fields Wednesday in southwestern counties, one day after surveying potential record yields in the northern part of the state.

This week’s tour, which includes agriculture leaders and others from the industry, has found most wheat fields are ripening two to three weeks early through the state.

Aaron Harries, marketing director for the trade group Kansas Wheat, said Wednesday in a phone interview from Comanche County that members are getting a fuller picture of the drought’s effects in the region stretching from southwest Kansas up through Garden City and over toward the Great Bend and Hoisington area.

“The dryland fields, most of them showed serious signs of drought stress,” Harries said. “They really need rain, probably within the next seven days, or you are going to see probably a very dramatic yield loss.”

Fields in that dry region are expected to yield 20 to 40 bushels per acre, a contrast he likened to “day and night” when compared with the average estimate of 53.6 bushels for fields in northern Kansas examined a day earlier.

“The ground is wet, they received some rain in southwest Kansas,” Harries said. “There is some topsoil moisture, which may help for a few days, give it a little bit more life.”

Meanwhile, unseasonably warm weather is hastening the ripening of the crop.

The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service estimated on Monday that 74 percent of the wheat in the state had already headed. Normally, just 7 percent of the Kansas wheat is headed by this time of the year.

Tour participants found a wheat field about 10 miles from Ashland in Comanche County that was already turning color and was probably only three weeks away from harvest.

Because the wheat is so far along already, this year’s wheat tour estimate is expected to more accurately forecast the state’s total winter wheat production.

The state service on Monday rated 13 percent of the crop as excellent and 49 percent as good. Another 30 percent was in fair condition, with 8 percent in poor to very poor condition.

As the tour nears south-central Kansas, which has had abundant moisture, participants will be looking for damage from severe storms that have hit the area.

The tour concludes today at the Kansas City Board of Trade, where the group will offer a forecast of the size of the Kansas winter wheat crop after commodity markets close.

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