As the wheat price continues downward, some farmers are salvaging surprise from yields that are better than predicted.
Mark Pettijohn’s pre-harvest prognostication was way off, but well in his favor.
“I thought my average would be 49 (bushels to the acre), and my worst field has been 55, and as high as 83,” said the farmer with fields primarily in northeastern Saline County.
“A better way of saying that is I’m dumber than I thought I was,” Pettijohn joked.
Yield reports have been “picking up” this week, said Tom Maxwell, agricultural Extension agent in Saline and Ottawa counties, to the point that final results might beat the 42-bushel average yield in these parts.
“I think we’ll be over average,” he said.
Generally, wheat planted into soybean fields after harvest last fall are yielding from the mid-40s to low 50s in bushels per acre, Maxwell said, and land that is farmed without tillage and planted to wheat every year, is posting higher yields, from the 60s, up to 75 and crossing the 80-bushel plateau.
“I’m sensing that it’s turning out to be the harvest we hoped it would be,” Maxwell said. “In some of the double-cropped wheat after beans and corn, there’s been some pleasant surprises.”
Some of the keys were spring rains that rescued the crop, an ideal cool period when the grain was being formed, and treating with fungicide — despite the low price — to hold off stripe rust.
“There were some varieties that had pretty good stripe rust resistance, too,” Maxwell said. “But in general, most of the high yields I’m hearing about were covered with fungicide.”
Thanks to disease, lack of adequate moisture, and some hail damage, he said, some yields dipped into the 30s, as well.
At least half done
Farmers in Saline County are at least half finished with harvest, he said, but some will be done soon.
“It has been yielding better than I thought,” said Joe Kejr, who farms around Salina and in western Saline County.
“Before the rains started, some of those fields, I thought, were about gone. Now, they’re yielding pretty good,” he said.
Generally, Kejr’s yields have ranged from 45 to 80 bushels per acre.
“It’s gonna be above what we could call average,” he said.
The 60s to 80s
High yields are needed if you’re selling wheat across the elevator scale. If the cost of production is $200 an acre, for example, it would require a yield of nearly 54.8 bushels to the acre at $3.65 a bushel to break even. The Scoular grain terminal at East Country Club Road, Salina, posted a cash price of $3.65 after the markets closed Tuesday. It was down 16 cents a bushel from Monday.
“We’re hearing a lot of (yields from) the 60s to the 80s,” said Kevin Heiman, senior market manager at Scoular.
Not all production costs are the same, Maxwell said, but $200 an acre in production costs is not a bad average. Expenses vary from farm to farm.
“The price is not as good as what we’d hoped, but having a little bit better yields kind of makes you feel a little better about the crop,” Kejr said.
A heckuva job
What’s being dumped at the Agri Trails Co-op elevator in Hope has been surprising, manager Darel Anderson said. Fields have been turning in yields from the 70s to the 80s, he said, and “isolated spots” of fields have been eclipsing 100 bushels to the acre.
“Sixty days ago, we were really concerned that we had a 40-bushel yield per acre crop, but Mother Nature and the good Lord have done a heckuva job in the last six weeks,” Anderson said.
When farmers began reporting high yields, he said, Agri Trails began freeing up storage space by shipping old wheat to the terminal elevators.
Anderson doesn’t expect to be piling new crop wheat on the ground this summer.
“At the end of harvest, we’re gonna be pretty well full,” he said. “That’s a manager’s dream.”
Space could become a problem by the fall harvest.
“We’re 95-percent dry land. We’re hoping we have that problem,” Anderson said.
Quality is high
Wheat quality has been high, with the majority of test weights at the benchmark of 60 pounds per bushel or higher in Saline County. Still, Maxwell said, there are some 57- and 58-pound test weights “where flood waters got over it, but the yields are still good.”
The Tuesday high temperature soared to 102 degrees just before 3 p.m. at Salina Regional Airport. Gear up for a 106-degree high today.
Somewhat of a break is forecast for Thursday when the high reaches 94 degrees, and there is an 80-percent chance for afternoon thunderstorms.
Kejr anticipated Tuesday that his harvest would wrap up by this weekend, but he promises not to complain if more moisture comes.
“I would even take getting rained out of a field,” he said, “to get a good general rain for the fall crops that are coming.”
There is a 60 percent chance for rain Sunday and Monday, according to the weather.com forecast.
Tim is a veteran agricultural journalist with the Salina Journal.