When Will Wheat Harvest Begin?

By this time last year, the Kansas wheat harvest had already progressed northward to the Nebraska border and was at least 65% finished.

In fact, by June 12 of last year, the Kansas Wheat Commission had already completed 12 of our daily Kansas Wheat Harvest Reports.

As of Sunday, the winter wheat crop was turning color on 22% of the acreage, well-behind last year’s 99% and long-term average of 67%. Just 1% of is considered ripe, compared to 85% last year and 27% on average.

This year, it hasn’t even started yet. And it looks to be June 17 or 18 before the first bushels are threshed near Kiowa in Barber County, which is the traditional starting point for the Kansas wheat harvest.

Steve Inslee, general manager for the OK Co-op Grain Co. in Kiowa, says the wheat crop is in various stages of maturity – from still-green to gold – which could make for a drawn-out wheat harvest. Inslee says drought and freeze have taken a toll on this year’s wheat crop in Barber and surrounding counties; he expects his elevator to take in only about 1 million bushels – which is about one-third the total of last year’s area harvest.

Wheat plants near Manhattan after Day 2 of extreme heat.

Jim Shroyer, long-time wheat specialist atKansas State University, often tells farmers at wheat variety plot tours that, “a lot of things can happen between now and harvest, and most of them are bad.”

An example: this week’s extreme heat (95 to 102 degrees) likely sapped some yield out of the still-developing crop in northern Kansas. The heat does two things to the wheat crop: it accelerates “senescence,” or plant death; it also causes a bit of shock to the plants, which had been accustomed to relatively mild temperatures. These two things can exacerbate any stress the plants are going through already, like disease, drought or insects.

K-State wheat breeder Allan Fritz says the heat shouldn’t affect wheat in southern Kansas, where the wheat is already at, or close to, physiological maturity (where the stem right below the head turns yellow). But with every county north, the potential for damage to the crop grows. That’s because heat can cause the wheat berries to fill quickly, but the plant “shuts down” before berries completely fill with endosperm.

“What we really needed was a long, cool grain fill period without heat stress. In south central Kansas, the crop is basically finished. But as we move north, I anticipate the test weight could be reduced,” Fritz says.

We have known for some time that with drought and freeze affecting much of western Kansas and parts of southern Kansas, this year’s crop is going to total much less than last year’s 382.2 million bushels. Best guess in the Kansas wheat office? 310 million bushels total for Kansas in 2013.  

* Shortly after we posted this, the National Ag Statistics sent out a press release estimating the Kansas wheat crop will total 307.8 million bushels.

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