Looking at Kansas wheat across the state during the first few days of May, members of the Wheat Quality Council labeled the crop in “pretty good shape.”
While the wheat in the western third to half of the state needs a drink, the 100 participants of the 55th annual tour agreed the crop is two to three weeks ahead of schedule and combines will begin rolling into the fields in May, which is unheard of.
After three days on the road, 63 participants of the WQC tour estimated the 2012 wheat crop to yield 403.8 million bushels. This figures out to be roughly 45 bushels per acre on the 9.5 million acres planted in Kansas.
The tour began April 30 in Manhattan and traveled west to Colby on the first day. Twenty-two vehicles following six different routes made the convoy.
The second day the tour headed south and east, ending up in Wichita. The final day moved from Wichita to Kansas City.
Each vehicle made from 12 to 20 stops and this year’s tour tallied 608 visits in different fields, according to Mark Nelson, Kansas Farm Bureau commodities director.
“We used formulas provided by Kansas Ag Statistics to make our estimates,” Nelson says. “While this nearly 404 million bushel estimate seems like a huge crop, we only have to go back to ’97-’98 when Kansas farmers harvested 500 million bushel crops.
“On the other hand, last year we harvested a much smaller crop with 276 million bushels because of the extreme drought.”
Nelson said he believes because the wheat crop is so far ahead of schedule and the crop insurance price is high, farmers will carry most of the acres all the way to harvest. Even in the poorer fields he doesn’t foresee much abandonment of wheat acres and estimated only 3 percent of the total wheat crop in Kansas will be abandoned this year.
Lincoln County farmer Steve Boor participated in the wheat for the first time this year. Unlike probably 50 percent of the participants, however, this wasn’t Boor’s maiden voyage into a wheat field. He first drove a Massey Harris Super 26 combine during wheat harvest when he was 10 years old more than 40 years ago.
The veteran wheat producer says participating in the wheat tour was one of most fun things he’s done.
“I had a blast,” Boor said. “To rub shoulders with wheat breeders, importers, exporters, millers, bakers, agronomists and just about anyone else who has a hand in wheat was another worthwhile learning experience.”
And while there were 100 participants on the tour, the veteran wheat producer was surprised only nine wheat farmers made the trip. He also noted that often estimates of the crop yield were higher than his.
“I’d look at other people’s numbers and shake my head and tell them, ‘it ain’t going to make that,’” Boor said. “They laughed and told me I was figuring low on purpose to keep the price of wheat high.”
Not so, according to the veteran Lincoln County wheat grower, and he told those on the tour so.
“After 40 years of walking in and out of these fields, I can look at wheat and tell you if it’s a 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 bushel crop,” Boor said. “You feel it in your gut. I’ve been brokenhearted by enough of these fields hoping to harvest 50 bushel wheat and it turned out to be 25 or 30 bushel wheat. It has a way of making you humble.”
Boor observed many of the tour participants gravitated to the best looking wheat in each field. He’d hang back and find a spot that was more representative of the average field. He added that he couldn’t blame them for being attracted to the best looking wheat.
While he admitted the wheat crop did look good in some regions of Kansas, he noted that he didn’t see any heads on this trip like he’s seen in past years when there was talk of good, big crops.
“That’s another reason I wasn’t convinced the figures we came up with were something you could take all the way to the bank,” Boor said.
When the Lincoln County farmer returned home after the tour, he looked at the local crop. In just four days he was amazed at how far the wheat had “backed up.”
“I can guarantee you our wheat crop isn’t going to make what our estimates on the tour showed,” Boor said. “The hot temperatures and wind really took the starch out of the wheat crop.”
Like all farmers, Boor knows the wheat crop was as good as it could get the first week in May. At this stage of maturity, with ideal weather conditions the crop can maintain, and if temperatures turn hot and the wind continues to blow, the crop can deteriorate quickly.
While he wouldn’t be surprised if there is some 50 and 60 bushel wheat harvested in Kansas this year, Boor said he’d be thrilled with a crop that averages 40 bushels per acre.
“I’d guess we’ll harvest about 390 million bushels in Kansas,” he said. “I’m a realist. Whatever it ends up when we haul the crop to the bin—that’s what it’ll be.”
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.