Kansas wheat harvest forecast to be up 40%

The wheat harvest for both the state and the area is forecast to be up 40 percent from last year’s drought-ravaged harvest, according to projections released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Based on the crop’s progress as of May 1, the state is projected to have its best harvest since 2003, producing 387 million bushels. South-central Kansas will be the biggest contributor with 85 million bushels, but every region of the state is expected to see an increase.

Any gains would come from big increases in the expected yield per bushel. Above normal rains throughout the state caused the rebound, said farmers and extension agents. Wichita, for instance, has received 13.4 inches of rain so far in 2012, which is more than 50 percent above normal.

Walter Burress farms mostly wheat near Augusta. So far, he said, his crop looks pretty strong.

“Oh, we’re looking at a pretty good amount,” he said. “Although the heat last week kind of took the top end off the crop, and it will vary by areas, some ahead of last year, some the same, and some are even backward.”

The abnormally warm winter and spring is pushing the harvest between a week to three weeks early.

Gary Cramer, an extension agent in Sedgwick County, said that the warm weather and moisture bring problems of their own.

“We’ve got a lot of disease and some insects as well,” he said. “We are going to have a good harvest, but not a bin-buster.”

Even in southwest Kansas, the drought has eased. Pratt was 2.3 inches above normal and Dodge City 1.68 inches above.

Tim Jones, extension agent in Morton County, in the state’s southwest corner, said that even there conditions have improved.

“You know, it’s better,” he said.

Southwest Kansas soil remains short of moisture. Still, the USDA forecasts an improvement in yield in southwest Kansas from 27 bushels an acre to 33 bushels.

Across the state, wild temperature swings – it nearly hit 100 a few weeks ago, Jones said – have taken their toll.

The good news, he said, is that farmers with nonirrigated acres may actually be able to harvest something this year.

“We are seeing an upswing in moisture,” Jones said.

Harvests in Oklahoma and Texas, even more deeply affected by the drought than Kansas, are expected to more than double, according to the USDA.

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