by Marsha Boswell, contributing editor, director of communications, Kansas Wheat
The Wheat Quality Council 2014 Hard Winter Wheat Tour wrapped up on May 1. Crop scouts estimated production for the Kansas crop at 260.6 million bushels. This would be the lowest production since 1996. The average yield, calculated from 587 stops, was 33.2 bushels per acre.
Twenty vans with crop scouts surveyed and evaluated the potential of the hard winter wheat crop the week of April 28 to May 1, 2014. The participants attended a brief training and tour overview session in Manhattan on the evening of April 28.
Day one saw the cars traveling on six different routes from Manhattan to Colby. Despite rain, bitter cold and bellowing winds, scouts saw clear, consistent evidence of drought stress on the first day of the annual HRW Wheat Quality Tour. Scouts in 20 vans made 271 stops on the first day of the tour from Manhattan to Colby. Overall, the groups reported an average of 34.7 bushels per acre, well below last year’s average and the five-year average, both at 43.8 bushels per acre. This also is the lowest Day 1 average since 2001, when scouts reported an average of 32.6 bushels per acre. Overall, Tuesday’s reports indicated the wheat crop in the northern half of the state is behind normal crop progress, short and in need of moisture soon.
“Moisture in the next 30 days is critical and important to more than just the wheat crop, extending into planting decisions for the rest of the spring,” said Rich Randall, Kansas Wheat commissioner who farms Scott City, Kansas.
On day two, the cars traveled from Colby to Wichita. Several cars went into the far western Kansas counties and three cars actually covered the northern tier of Oklahoma counties. Scouts on the second day of the 2014 HRW Wheat Quality Tour reported the lowest yields in at least the last 14 years as they traveled south and east from Colby to Wichita. Along the six routes, scouts made a total of 271 stops on Wednesday. They estimated the average yield at 30.8 bushels per acre, substantially below last year’s average of 37.1 bushels per acre on Day 2. Lack of moisture continues to dominate concerns. Scouts reported extremely dry conditions, which has resulted in shorter than normal wheat and thin stands. Scattered fields had headed out, with participants seeing fewer spikelets and smaller heads than expected. Drought conditions continue to persist for the fourth year in a row in some places.
Kansas Wheat Commissioner and Clearwater-area farmer, Scott Van Allen, wasn’t surprised at the low yields being reported. He commented the crop still had great potential as recently as three weeks ago, but as the temperatures have warmed and moisture supplies continue to dissipate, he has grown less optimistic. Van Allen stated, “If moisture arrives in the near future, maximum yields in our area will probably be in the 35-40 bushel range. That’s a far cry from yields we were hoping for as the crop first broke dormancy this spring.”
Day three concluded the trip with cars traveling from Wichita to Kansas City. The final estimates for average yield as well as total Kansas wheat production were released after the group’s final meeting in Kansas City.
The calculated average from the entire tour was 33.2 bushels per acre. Last year, the tour estimated Kansas wheat production would average 41.1 bushels per acre, close to the final USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service’s final yield for Kansas of 38 bushels per acre. The scouts use a formula provided by Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service to arrive at their calculated average. The formula is based on a 10-year rolling average and changes slightly from year to year.
All the yield estimates from the tour assume decent moisture and average temperature prospects from now until harvest.
According to Mark Hodges, executive director of Plains Grains, Inc., the tour estimates at this point are reporting top-end yield potential, “We cannot make any more wheat, we can only preserve what we already have.”
The crop is several weeks behind normal in terms of maturity; Monday’s Crop Report from Kansas Ag Statistics indicated that just 4% of the crop has headed out, compared to 1% last year and 17 average. Winter wheat condition rated 13 percent very poor, 24 poor, 42 fair, 20 good, and 1 excellent. Winter wheat jointed was 56 percent, near 52 last year but behind the five-year average of 74.