With every field damaged to some extent from the weekend blizzard, Garden City farmer Dwane Roth doesn't expect to be seeing a bin-buster this year.
It comes just a year after farmers in these parts harvested a bumper crop - some even reporting yields surpassing the century mark. But Roth, whose fields have now been hit by snow, freezing temperatures and a virus, doesn't see a good outcome when harvest rolls around in June.†
"We have some fields that are completely flat," said Roth. "Some arenít so bad. But every field is dinged up. There isnít a field out here that didnít take a hickey."
It appears this year's harvest could be a tale of two crops. Or, at least, that is what scouts on the Wheat Quality Council's annual Hard Winter Wheat Tour†were finding as they crossed the state examining fields this week.
In areas of central Kansas, thanks to the rains and farmers spraying for diseases, there is a potential for another above-average harvest.
Meanwhile, the Kansas Department of Agriculture has estimated about 40 percent of the state's wheat crop has some sort of damage - much of that in western Kansas where temperatures slid below freezing and more than a foot of snow blanketed the countryside in an unusual late-spring storm.
However, it will still be a few weeks before the extent of the damage is known.
"I know it is cliche, but it is too soon to tell," said Aaron Harries, a tour member with Kansas Wheat.
Standing in a field in Stafford County where scouts were taking samples, Harries said it was tough to estimate yields in parts of western Kansas because of snow cover or the crop was lying so flat that it was difficult to determine where the rows were.†
Their route hit snow from Hill City west, he said.
"It is hard for us to count stems, and we don't know if we should count the bent stems or not," said Harries. "So we didn't do a lot of yield estimates in western Kansas, so our report is going to have to take that into account a little bit."
Some fields might rebound, he said. But trekking through the soggy fields, there were too many unknowns. Harries said the shorter, younger wheat that fell over might have a better chance of rebounding than the taller, more mature wheat, which could have a kink in the stem from the heavy snow - which could have even caused the stem to snap.
"I would say out in western Kansas, it is pretty safe to say pretty widespread yields under 30 bushels an acre," he added.
Thanks to conditions increasing east of Garden City, the scouts estimated a statewide yield of 46 bushels an acre when they concluded the tour Thursday afternoon. Average yield for day three of the tour alone - which encompassed much of central Kansas from Wichita to Manhattan, was forecast at 58.9 bushels an acre.†
In Marion County, scouts estimated a field at 54 bushels an acre. Tanner Ehmke,†senior economist of grains and farm supply for CoBank, said he and the scouts he was with calculated a Dickinson County field at 90 bushels an acre.†
That is quite the change from some of the poor stands he saw in the western third of the state. He predicted higher abandonment rates due to the snow, freeze and wheat streak mosaic virus.
"As we moved east into central Kansas, things got better," Ehmke said. "It has just been phenomenal growing conditions - a lot of moisture - a little bit of disease pressure - but the central part of Kansas could do very well."
All told, scouts predict Kansas farmers could harvest 281.7 million bushels this year, according to Kansas Wheat. That is 185 million fewer bushels than last year.
Among the group of 70-some who attended the tour was Fahad Vaipel, who traveled from Geneva. Vaipel works for Olam International, a leading agribusiness that operates from seed to shelf in 70 different countries.
He came to Kansas to inspect wheat quality, he said. The company works to provide wheat for their mills.
Vaipel and his group, lead by Harries, might have a more biased view because of the conditions.
"We were only stopping at places were we could do measurements," he said. "But the fields we went through and we measured, it was all good. But there were some fields we couldn't measure."
There are a lot of different routes, said Kevin Stockard, with CHS Hedging in Kansas City, part of the carload.
However, "the routes we were on we thought could recover pretty well," he said.
Vaipel said what is tough is agronomists aren't sure of the damage because they haven't seen these types of conditions before. He noted they have seen fields where 60 percent of the stems were bent.†
"Even if it comes up it is susceptible to damage going forwarded because it is weak now," he said. "Those are the kind of situations that are out there."
Harries said even before a freeze and snow, wheat in western Kansas was struggling from wheat streak mosaic.
Some farmers have reported turning fields over to insurance because of the extensive damage.
Wheat streak mosaic is spread by the wheat curl mite, which uses volunteer wheat as a green bridge to move into newly emerging wheat, according to Kansas Wheat. Because of the economy, there wasn't as much money for controlling volunteer wheat last fall.
"It's pretty bad in the western two tiers of counties - I would say in the western third of the state," said Harries. "We've seen that the past few years but the warm fall allowed for it to get established in western Kansas and that is going to have a big impact on the yield - and in those places a lot more than the snow ever would."
Scouting his own fields
Roth went through his own fields this week. Some of the wheat is turning yellow. Some is broken off. Some stems are bent.
"We still have to have another 10 days to be certain on anything," he said.
Prices have increased from last week. Wheat was around $3.30 a bushel at Garden City Co-op Thursday. But prices remain low amid the struggling farm economy.
There is just too much wheat in the world, he said.
Adjusters will eventually come out and look at the crop. "If the snow didn't do it over, I think the freeze reduced the yield potential," he said.
It's the worst late spring weather his family has ever experienced, he added.
"My dad is 84 years old and he has never seen a 30-year snow like this, and he's lived out here his whole life," said Roth. "We went from piles of wheat last year to now the elevators are going to be hurting. This is going to have severe consequences."