Kansas winter wheat production will drop 35 percent from last year, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released Friday, making it unlikely farmers will see major profits.
Wheat farmers are expected to bring in 304 million bushels in Kansas this year, according the USDA report. That is down from the 467 million bushels produced last year. The decrease is due to a number of factors, Dan O’Brien, an agriculture economist at Kansas State University, said. Disease and unseasonable weather have hit farmers hard this year, but farmers also planted less wheat, he said.
Wheat prices have fallen annually for several seasons, he said, so to avoid a loss many farmers planted less wheat in favor of other crops. Last year wheat grew on 8.2 million acres of Kansas farmland, but this year it’s under 7 million.
“Farmers are smart economists,” he said. “It’s like with any business. If there’s less profit, you cut back.”
The decline in production will hopefully drive prices up, O’Brien said. The national average is about $4.30 per bushel, up about 10 percent, according to his analysis. That could be enough to keep profits level or slightly higher than last year, but a firm prediction can’t be made until July or August, he said.
“We could be talking about a marginal gain, but that’s not enough to give farmers much comfort,” he said.
In western Kansas, where warm February temperatures sprouted wheat early before a late-April snow storm, wheat conditions are patchy, Hamilton County farmer Jason Ochs said, calling conditions “scary.” The storm killed off many acres that had grown too tall to handle the weight of the snow. On top of weather damage, widespread disease has also taken a toll.
“I’m very lucky. My wheat looks exceptional, but you go a half mile down the road, and I don’t think they’ll even cut a bushel,” he said.
Farmers in Shawnee County likely won’t be impacted much by the decrease in bushels, K-State agriculture extension agent Leroy Russell said. Of the nearly 200,000 acres of farm land in the county, less than 10,000 are devoted to wheat. Local farmers have been moving away from wheat in favor of corn and soybeans for more than a decade, he said, because production costs are lower.
“They can be a lot more profitable with a different crop,” he said.
Though prices might rise a little, Ochs said farmers are nervous about yields. Several farmers in the area had “bumper crops” last year, he said, but prices have been too low to make up for any loss this year.
“Everything is dependent on ag out here,” he said. “It’s not just the farmers that hurt in these small towns. Everyone will be hurting.”