Dry Winds Blow as Scouts Estimate Lower Yields than Last Year

By Julia Debes, contributing editor, assistant director of communications, U.S. Wheat Associates

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. The two-day running average estimate is now at 32.8 bushels per acre, based on 542 stops.

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.

Scouts reported high variability in today’s reports, with high/low yield estimates ranging from 7 bushels per acre to 63 bushels per acre. Crops in the northwestern part of the state were reported as improved from last year’s tour, but still well below the five-year average. In the far western counties, scouts reported very short wheat that is unlikely to be harvested.

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.”

Overall, Kansas will need additional moisture soon to fulfill the crop’s current potential.

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 Wheat Quality Tour will wrap up on Thursday as scouts will check fields from Wichita to Kansas City. The final estimates for average yield as well as total Kansas wheat production will be released after the tour’s final meeting at the Kansas City Board of Trade building. 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.

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Tour Battles Weather to Scout Drought Stressed Wheat Crop

By Julia Debes, contributing editor, assistant director of communications with U.S. Wheat Associates

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 is definitely our limiting factor,” Jeanne Falk-Jones, northwest area extension specialist with K-State Research and Extension, said. “Looking at rainfall factors, there is no reason the wheat should even should be looking this good. The cool weather lately has helped preserve the good stand established last fall, but high winds continue to threaten the crop.”

Just 21 percent of the wheat crop was rated good to excellent as of April 28, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

On his first wheat tour, Josh Roe, economist with the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said, “A lot of the wheat looks better from the road than when you get out in it. It is thinner and shorter crop than we would hope for at this time of year.”

Overall, NASS reported that 56 percent of the Kansas wheat crop was jointed as of April 28, compared to 74 percent five-year average. Just 4 percent is headed, slightly behind the five-year average of 9 percent.

The crop’s maturity compares to this time last year, but the lack of high yield estimates through Central Kansas is a big concern, according to Daryl Strouts, executive director of the Kansas Wheat Alliance. He explained that high yields of 70 up to 80 bushels per acre last year near Chapman, Abilene and Salina pulled up the yield average for the state. This year, those same areas had yield estimates of just 30 to 45 bushels per acre.

As low as Tuesday’s yield estimates were, the tour will travel from Colby to Wichita on Wednesday, traversing the western half of the state. There, drought conditions continue to persist for the fourth year in a row in some places.

“Tomorrow will be worse, with highly variable wheat in our area,” said Rich Randall, Kansas Wheat commissioner who farms Scott City, Kansas. “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.”

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Wheat Tour 14, Day 1

The #wheattour14 started off cool and rainy, and ended with an estimated yield of 34.7 bushels per acre, down from 43.8 last year and a five year average of the same, 43.8 bpa. Today’s numbers were the lowest since 2001. Tour participants sampled 271 fields.



Here are some highlights from the day.

This Washington Co field came in at 44 bpa: Still tillering.

washington county

Spotty stand east of Smith Center. Very little soil moisture available.

Smith Center

Stop near Zurich could do better than est 25.6 bpa, but some potential freeze damage is evident.


Decatur County. Short wheat with no sub-soil moisture. Yield estimate is 30 bpa if it rains again.

photo (2)








Kent Symns from Farmer Direct and Jorge Karl from Brazil inspect a field on day one of









attire. Just another late April day in Kansas.









Follow updates on Twitter at #wheattour14.

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Wheat Condition Report – March 6, 2014

For the month of February, winter wheat condition rated four percent very poor, 18 percent poor, 44 percent fair, 32 percent good, and two percent excellent, according to the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service.

Temperatures were colder than normal, with most areas averaging six to ten degrees colder than normal. As the snow melted, wheat fields started to green up and show signs of growth. Some concerns continue regarding the potential for winterkill due to the extremely cold temperatures. The majority of Kansas is abnormally dry, and the western half of the state continues to be in severe drought conditions.

“The Kansas wheat crop is in below average conditions,” said Kansas Wheat CEO Justin Gilpin. “We are seeing below average moisture conditions as the crop is nearing time to break dormancy.”

David Schemm, from Wallace County, Kan., reports: “Late planted wheat is in poor condition; that would account for about of the 20% of the wheat. The rest of the wheat is ok. I checked Tuesday, and it looks like it may have lost about 20% of the tillers.”

Brian Linin, from Sherman County, Kan., reports: “Our conditions haven’t changed much in the past month.  We have had some minor instances of maintenance moisture, but nothing significant enough to improve the conditions and outlook.  We need rain and/or snow.”

Richard Randall reports: “Not much change in Scott County. Snow has not been very wet. Wheat is greening up, and some topdressing has started.”

Mike McClellan, from Rooks County, reports: “A light dusting of snow this morning brings more of the same here: slick roads and not much moisture.  Our wheat stands are decent but we have ‘no money in the bank’ as far as moisture.  We need good rains this spring to make a crop.  The cold temps concern me, as the wheat had started to green back up, and we had no snow cover to speak of.  We will know more in a month.  Then we will say we will know more in June!”

Randy Fritzemeier, from Stafford County, Kan., reports: “I think our winter wheat conditions are still ok, even though we’ve had sub-zero weather. We had about 6 inches of snow cover this past weekend. The snow will also help a little with moisture for the wheat. The wheat had greened up a little from earlier in the winter, but still hasn’t started to try to grow.”

Scott Van Allen, from Sedgwick County, reports: “We received about ½ inch of sleet and snow – enough soil moisture to keep us going, but we will need much more at green up. The jury is still out on winter kill as we hit -2 degrees here with little, if any, snow cover after some 50-60 degree days. Some of the late planted small wheat was not greening up on those days, but we will wait and see.”

Doug Keesling, from Rice County, reports: “Our wheat in central Kansas is still asleep today. The early planted wheat in area was burned back very hard, but still looks in average shape, since it was well rooted and had adequate moisture in the fall. The later half of wheat, planted after Fly date or after fall crops, came up before winter but was not as well rooted before the first major freeze hit. Since that freeze I have not seen them green up any compared to the earlier plantings. I feel their tillers have been hurt, but will not know for sure until we have warmer weather. The later we do get that warm up will greatly hurt yield if more tillers can not develop. Sub soil moisture is limited to dry in most places, so we will be needing spring rains to increase potential yields.”

Ken Wood reports: “Things still look pretty tough in northern Dickinson County. There are portions of fields that haven’t started to show any green yet. We will know more about the extent of damage in the next couple of weeks.”

The most positive reports come from the northeast crop reporting district, which unfortunately also has the least planted wheat acres. Jay Armstrong, from Atchison County, reports that the northeast corner of the state received decent snows in the month of February: “The wheat looks good here with plenty of moisture. Some wheat is showing some winter burn from the cold winds, but I don’t think it will have much of an effect as long as the weather stays normal.”

The majority of the wheat in Kansas is grown in central and western Kansas, where moisture levels continue to be below average.

Image: Kansas Drought Monitor.

Source: United States Drought Monitor: Kansas

Would you like to share the condition of the wheat crop in your area? Please send me an email at mboswell@kswheat.com or leave a comment below.

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Kansas Wheat Quality Lab

The Kansas Wheat Quality Lab is working on a number of projects on behalf of Kansas wheat farmers. The main funding for the lab is provided by Kansas wheat producers through the two penny per bushel wheat checkoff.

Wheat Breeding Program

The main purpose of the Wheat Quality Lab is to provide testing results for KSU wheat breeders Allan Fritz and Gourong Zhang.

Wheat breeders at Kansas State University continually work to improve the agronomic traits of Kansas wheat varieties. In addition to agronomic traits, successful varieties should be marketable. Dr. Rebecca Miller, director of the Wheat Quality Laboratory, and student employees provide evaluations of physical and chemical kernel characteristics, milling yield and flour and baking properties of promising experimental wheat lines.

The mixograph is used to determine mixing time and how much water will be needed for bread baking.

The mixograph is used to determine mixing time and how much water will be needed for bread baking.

Because the mixograph requires only a few grams of wheat and provides a significant amount of data about the variety, Miller and her students are able to run these tests early in the breeding process. When Fritz sends samples to the Wheat Quality Lab, he is able to eliminate about half of the potential varieties based on the data from the mixograph. Those varieties that move on through the process come back to the lab in a couple years when there is enough flour to conduct a baking test.

Using the results from the mixograph, the flour is mixed into dough.

The dough is made using only flour, water, yeast, sugar, salt, and shortening. It is a very simple formula used to test the flour. The lab technicians do as much of the process as they can mechanically to reduce the possibility of human error. Dr. Miller trains bakers for about a month before letting them bake actual samples because the job is tedious and the samples cannot be wasted.

Dough is left to rise.

The lab uses pup loaves, made from 100 grams of flour. It takes about a day to bake 20-30 loaves of bread, and each flour sample is baked twice. The lab uses the Finney Method, which was developed at K-State by Carl Finney of the USDA.

Measuring the volume of the loaf

Measuring the volume of the loaf

After the bread is baked, the volume of the loaf is measured using a system of displacement. The loaf of bread is put into the bottom of this device, and canola seeds fall all around it. The marks on the side indicate the volume of the loaf.

Dr. Miller then cuts open the loaf and looks at crumb grain. She can determine how the cells are aligned, if they’re round or oval, and how thick the cell wall is. This tells her if the flour is strong or weak and the strength of the dough.

Tortilla Testing

The tortilla market in the U.S. and abroad is significant and growing. The properties of good quality tortilla flours vary from those of good quality bread flours. Many of the wheat varieties being grown on significant acreage in Kansas are not ideal for pan bread production. Identifying other products in which these varieties will perform well will increase the marketability of Kansas wheat.

Kansas wheat producers need to become more aware of the need to supply high quality grain in order to remain competitive in the world marketplace. Guidance on preferred varieties to grow in order to improve the quality of the Kansas wheat crop is critical.

The Wheat Quality Lab is also looking at the same varieties and screening them for their tortilla making varieties. The properties to make a good tortilla are different from the properties needed to make a good bread. Some of the new varieties may not make good bread, but they might be great for tortillas.

Tortillas are scored based on diameter, thickness, and opacity.

Tortillas are scored based on diameter, thickness, and opacity.

Wheat Quality Council

The Wheat Quality Lab also tests wheats for the Wheat Quality Council. These samples have been in a breeder’s program for 10-12 years, and are the premier lines that are either very close to release or have already been released. These tests are open to all public and private breeders who may submit a check sample, which is the baseline or control sample, and one or two premier varieties. New varieties should meet or exceed the check. The samples are sent to several labs which use their own procedures to test how the flour performs. Breeders are able to evaluate how the flour from their varieties performs using different baking procedures. This gives them a better real world industry view on how their varieties will perform.

Genetic Mapping

Dr. Miller is proposing an additional project for the upcoming year. Researchers have been collecting genetic mapping of the genes that affect agronomic traits, but little has been done on mapping genes that affect quality. They can map genes and test quality so they can identify which genes control bake volume, mix time, water absorption, etc. The wheat samples change every year because of the environment. The Wheat Quality Lab is already doing tests on samples that have good agronomic characteristics, but they’re never testing those with poor agronomic traits because they are discarded before being sent to the lab.

There may be varieties with excellent bread baking qualities but poor agronomic characteristics. Miller’s project proposes to test some of these “rejects,” as she calls them in order to assist in mapping genes that affect quality. They need to test as many samples as they can in order to have a more complete data set.

In the future, breeders may be able to use this data to select genes that provide excellent baking qualities in addition to pest resistance, drought tolerance, yield and any number of other agronomic traits.


Dr. Miller and the Wheat Quality Lab are able to assist in wheat marketing efforts by Kansas Wheat, U.S. Wheat Associates, Wheat Quality Council, K-State Cooperative Extension, International Grains Program, and other regional wheat associations. This is essential to expanding the marketability for Kansas wheat.

Recent Variety Results

Popular wheat varieties grown on 0.2 percent or more of the seeded acres in Kansas in crop year 2014 and several newly released varieties were evaluated using laboratory milling and baking tests. End-use quality for white pan bread production was categorized as most desirable, acceptable, or less desirable using the Wheat Quality Council’s recommended wheat and flour quality targets. Results from 2014 have just been published. Dr. Miller found that the most desirable varieties for milling and bread baking quality were Jagalene, Jagger, and Overley. While the majority of the lines provided acceptable quality, a few were categorized as less desirable. These included Above, Everest, Hitch, T153, and TAM 110.

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Kansas Wheat Condition Update

The snow cover we received over the past week in Kansas was definitely welcome, but the wheat crop isn’t out of the woods yet. Top soil moisture remains lacking, and most areas throughout the state would like to see moisture in the form of wet snow or rain. Most could probably agree that temperatures above freezing would be helpful too.


Brian Linin, from Sherman County, reports: Over the past 2-3 weeks, we have received a total of approximately 6-8” of what I would call dry, blowing snow. We have had 1 or 2 small snow storms even on the level, but most have had an accompanying wind which tends to drift the snow and not provide even coverage. We still desperately need moisture for the wheat crop.

Eric Sperber, from Thomas County, reports: Good fall moisture allowed for good initial plant development.  However, since November we have been extremely dry, and several days of high winds have made the situation worse. We have had several small snow events, but very little moisture. We will need some good moisture events prior to crop breaking dormancy.

Richard Kvasnicka, from Logan County, reports: We received 4-5″ on Tuesday, February 4. It was a light, fluffy snow. The fields just barely had any on them. Some of the now was pretty dirty in the ditches. Saturday, February 8, it got up to 40+ temperatures and melted all the snow we had. On Sunday, February 9, we had another light snow which amounted to about 2-3″.

Rich Randall, from Scott County, reports: We received four inches of dry snow. It is cold, cold, cold. I don’t know if wheat is okay or not…..it has been frozen for a month.

Ron Suppes, from Lane County, reports: We received 4 to 5 inches of snow, it was very light and did blow off the north side of tilled wheat fields. Surface moisture is limited, and sub-soil moisture is still better than last year. There has been some ground chiseled due to blowing dust.

Mike Jordan, from Mitchell County, reports: We had 3 inches of snow southwest of Beloit, much of which blew off the fields. The wheat leaves have burned down to ground level, but there is some life still in most of the plants.

Justin Knopf, from Saline County, reports: We received about 12″ total of snow. However, the snow was fairly dry and much of it blew off the fields over the weekend. It did leave enough on the fields to provide some insulation from the cold temps, though, which is positive. Overall, the wheat condition is somewhat hard to assess at the moment. There is some limited surface soil moisture. Root development is highly variable, and there are certainly fields with poor stands moving towards spring.

Ken Wood reports: Here in Dickinson County, we received about a foot of snow on top of a couple of inches from last weekend. Prior to the snow, our wheat looked pretty poor. We will just have to wait until later in the spring to see if it actually starts to grow.

Paul Penner, from Marion County, reports: We received between 10 to 12+ inches of snow in our area, depending on location. It was very light, fluffy snow, perhaps containing a little more than 1/2 inch of moisture. The winds did pick up somewhat afterwards, and drifting did occur. Our soil moisture is very short in the top 6 inches. The snow will help the wheat survive the cold temperatures and wind.

Scott Van Allen reports: The wheat in Sumner County finally received some beneficial snow cover Tuesday (2/4/14). We received about 6 inches on the level until the winds blew in on Wednesday. I have heard of some late planted wheat that might be in trouble from the cold weather, but haven’t seen it myself. I am ready for spring! Update: Van Allen reports that they received another five inches of snow Sunday night and Monday (2/9-10). They were glad to get the moisture, but getting really tired of the cold. On the upside, he reports that this cold weather will likely help lower the threat of disease and insect damage this spring.

Jay Armstrong, from Atchison County, reports: Wheat that was planted at the normal time was up and looked good throughout the winter. There was some leaf burn from cold winds, but it still had a good green center. This snow, while hard to live in, was just what the doctor ordered. We got 10” of snow that only had minimal drifting. I would classify our wheat excellent for what is planted, but planting is down because of the late fall harvest.

Would you like to share the condition of the wheat crop in your area? Please send me an email at mboswell@kswheat.com or leave a comment below.

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Wheat Film Hits National Audience

Harvesting the High Plains, a wheat documentary, aired on national television Oct. 1. The film, narrated by Mike Rowe, tells the story of Kansas Wheat farmers and the obstacles they have overcome to reach the successes of today.

Intended to honor those involved in the wheat industry today, the film is the story of farmers overcoming the toughest challenges seen by producers of food across the world today.

Available through PBS home video, the film is set to be playing across the nation during various times during over the next four months. Check your local listing for further information.

Filmaker, Jay Kriss is excited for the film to reach a national audience.

“For a little story about Kansas, it is great to get such a national presence,” said Kriss.

Click the link below for a small preview of the film.

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