The Associated Press
GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Members of a group that went on an annual tour of wheat fields in the Upper Midwest say they are impressed with this year's crop, though they say too much heat in the coming weeks could damage it.
The Colorado-based Wheat Quality Council has sponsored the tour every year since 1992 to give the wheat industry an early look at the crop. This year's three-day tour in late July involved a record 75 people - mostly government statisticians and representatives of millers and other companies in the wheat industry - who made 472 stops in fields in North Dakota, northern South Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, the Grand Forks Herald reported (http://bit.ly/18N0s8C ).
Tour participants estimated this year's overall wheat yield at an above-average 45 bushels per acre, the same as what the 2012 tour participants estimated for last year's crop. Finding a field in poor condition was difficult, they said.
"Fields were disease-free, and farmers did a good job keeping them free of weeds, too," Wheat Quality Council President Ben Handcock said.
This year's cool, wet spring resulted in some fields in the region not being planted and others being planted later than usual. Because of that, the wheat crop is not as advanced as it normally is when the tour is held.
Warm temperatures in July helped wheat catch up after the late spring, but too much heat in the next few weeks would damage the crop, according to Handcock.
"I think this is a really nice wheat crop. It's got one major problem - too late," he said. "If the weather stays like it is right now - low 80s, maybe not getting to 80 every once in a while - it'll probably be fine. But if it gets to 90 to 95 degrees ... then we might have issues."
Wheat has been losing ground to other crops in recent years in the Upper Midwest. Attractive corn and soybean prices, along with new, improved corn varieties, have led farmers to plant more of those crops and less wheat. Still, wheat is well-suited to the soil and climate of the region, and many farmers continue to grow it. North Dakota leads the nation in the production of spring wheat, which is used for a variety of baked goods, and also durum wheat, which is used for pasta. Minnesota is third and South Dakota fourth in spring wheat production.