The Kansas wheat harvest is a “tale of two crops.”
That’s how Romulo Lollato, wheat and forages extension specialist at Kansas State University, compared harvest in the central corridor, including Reno County, and harvest in western Kansas.
Central Kansas received too much rain, but the west had “almost perfect conditions,” according to Lollato.
“We got rain about the right time and didn’t get super hot. We’re very fortunate and blessed this year,” said Taylor Ince, manager of Bartlett Grain’s grain elevators in Scott City and Healy.
It’s “pretty common” to hear of yields of 80 to 100 to 100-plus bushels of wheat per acre," Ince said, “which is really good for this area.”
At the start of this week, 61 percent of the winter wheat crop in Kansas had been harvested, compared to 89 percent of the crop harvested at the same point in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Wheat was slow to be planted and slow to mature. When it was ready for cutting, rain dogged farmers in some areas, including in the west, where rain interrupted cutting early this week.
The USDA’s field crops report at the start of this week rated winter wheat conditions in Kansas as 16 percent excellent; 42 percent good; 27 percent fair; 11 percent poor; and 4 percent very poor.
Wheat yields have been “very variable,” Lollato said. Wheat likes 15 to 20 inches of rain during the growing season, but some areas in the central section received up to 60 inches or more, he said.
Fields with sandy soil that doesn’t hold water produced better yields than fields with soil that does hold water. That resulted in yield swings of 60 to 70 bushels per acre to about 20 bushels per acre, he said.
Western Kansas received the desired amount of rain and benefited from a cool-growing season, too. Fields where typical yields might be 25 to 30 bushel per acre, were harvesting 65 to 70 bushels per acre this year, Lollato said, and those fields that usually average about 70 bushels per acre were now hitting 100 bushels per acre.
Early and late
Heavy rains in fall 2018 hampered wheat-planting in areas. The results of that delay were evident at harvest.
Dean Stoskopf, of Hoisington, planted some wheat early, then October rains fell, and some wheat was planted late. “We were about half planted timely and about half planted late,” Stoskopf said.
He harvested two different wheat crops. Yields were higher in the fields planted early, he said.
“The yields were all over the board,” said Rodney Bergkamp, of Arlington.
Yields ranged anywhere from 25 bushels per acre to 75 to 80 bushels per acre, he said.
One factor was rain-delayed planting. “Earlier planted wheat was the best, by far,” Bergkamp said Friday.
While fields with low yields were disappointing, Bergkamp pointed out two positive notes.
A wet, cool spring delayed cutting across the state, but in this area, Bergkamp said, “When we did start cutting, it didn’t bother us and didn’t rain on us,” he said, and that helped the test weights. Also, concerns raised about driving heavy equipment through muddy fields didn’t materialize. Rains had left the ground packed, he said.
In the west
Harvest was about 80 percent done Friday in the Garden City area, according to Chris Wagner, vice president of the grain division for Garden City Cooperative. “We have had a few rain delays, but nothing out of the normal for harvest,” he said.
“We do have above-average yields this year,” Wagner said. Official yield numbers are not yet available, but the range will probably be in the 60s for bushels per acre, he said.
“We will have plenty of storage for the remaining portion of the harvest,” Wagner said.
Storage is “definitely a fluid situation and limited,” said Ince, managing Bartlett Grain’s locations in Scott City and Healy.
Some elevators had to shut the doors, Ince said, but Bartlett Grain has ground storage and “we’ve been able to keep fluid,” he said.
Harvest is typically done around July 4 in that area, he said, and some farmers didn’t even get started until then. There was some hail loss in western wheat fields, but the otherwise high yields “were so darn good,” Ince said, “that it’s hard to be too terribly upset about that.”
When yield numbers rise, the protein numbers usually dip, according to K-State’s Lollato.
Ince said typically, wheat in western Kansas might have protein in the 12-13 range, but in this high-yield harvest, protein is now in the 9-10 range, he said.
That doesn’t cause any problem for the producer, Lollato said, and it creates an opportunity for producers who are going to have high-protein wheat.
Lollato said farmers with hail-damaged fields will have to control volunteer wheat because it can harbor diseases.
In mid-July in 2015, 2016, and 2017, some areas in Kansas appeared shaded on the United States Drought Monitor map which tracks “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought."
In mid-July, 2018, about half or more of Kansas was shaded anywhere from “abnormally dry” to “extreme drought.”
This week, the drought monitor map showed much of the central U.S. — including all of Kansas — completely free of any shading.