Trends in Kansas Wheat

It’s kind of fun to recap the most recent Kansas wheat crop, which Kansas Agricultural Statistics did last week with the 2011 Kansas Wheat County Estimate report.

The good news:

  • Wheat Capital of the WorldSumner County retains its title as the top producing county in the state, yielding 10.5 million bushels.  That’s appropriate, as Sumner County proudly calls itself the “Wheat Capital of the World.” Year after year, farmers here produce high-quality wheat, and lots of it.
  • McPherson County was the second leading producer, with 8.9 million bushels; Sherman County third, 7.4 million bushels; Mitchell County fourth, 7.3 million bushels and Reno County fifth, with 6.7 million bushels.
  • Miami County farmers produced an average 57.6 bushels per acre – a new record for average county yield. Greeley County had the highest average irrigated yield, at 72.7 bushels per acre. (On the downside, drought-stricken Morton County had the lowest average, at 16.3 bushels per acre).

Now, the not-so-good news:

  • At a rather modest 277 million bushels, the 2011 Kansas wheat crop is symbolic of a trend in Kansas wheat production: fewer bushels, from fewer acres.
  • Farmers planted 8.8 million acres in fall, 2010 for the 2011 harvest; they cut 7.9 million acres last summer. Both of these are the fewest since 1957.

In a recent report called “Trends in Kansas Wheat Production,” K-State economist Michael Langemeier reports that since 1981, wheat acreage in Kansas has declined from 13.9 million acres in 1981, to 8.8 million acres in 1981. Kansas farmers planted about 9.5 million acres last fall – but the fact is, Kansas farmers are planting fewer acres of wheat. The reason is simple: farmers believe there is more money to be made planting other crops.

Since 1874, however, Kansas has been this nation’s leading wheat producer. Our climate is perfect for growing Hard Red and Hard White winter wheat; our farmers are excellent producers of the crop (which is the world’s most consumed grain, by the way) and our state has built a wonderful wheat farming infrastructure to support all this production.

Therefore, the Kansas Wheat Commission, which collects a penny-and-a-half per bushel of wheat produced in Kansas, believes the trend can be reversed. More than 25% of the funds collected are invested in wheat research (improved varieties, new traits, improved functionality of wheat) to improve farmer profitability. These are important projects, and with state and federal investment in wheat research declining, it is important that Kansas farmers step up to the plate.

Even more important is that Kansas wheat farmers are investing in the new Kansas Wheat Innovation Center in Manhattan. This new complex, located near Bill Snyder Family Stadium, will be a hub of wheat research, featuring greenhouses and state-of-the-art laboratory space in which dramatic gains in wheat yield and traits will occur.

Kansas has long been known as the Nation’s Breadbasket. When the KWIC is completed by Jan., 2013 –  we feel confident that Kansas will be the Breadbasket of the World.

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