WICHITA, Kan. - Kansas' winter wheat crop will be far bigger this year than previously forecast, according to a government report issued Thursday that comes as the harvest winds down across the state.
The 328 million bushels now expected to be cut in Kansas is 7 percent larger than last month's estimate, the National Agricultural Statistics Service said in its monthly crop report. Despite the more upbeat outlook, the harvest is still anticipated to be down 14 percent from last year.
The latest report forecasts an average yield of 40 bushels per acre cut from an estimated 8.2 million harvested acres in Kansas, the nation's biggest winter wheat-producing state. Estimates are based on July 1 conditions. The July report is typically closely watched because it comes when most of the state's wheat crop is typically already in the bin.
In drought-plagued western Kansas, much of the crop has been abandoned. The agency said just 87 percent of the acres of winter wheat that were planted in Kansas are actually expected to be cut. Production in western Kansas is only slightly above half of last year's crop.
"We knew three months ago that we were going to have pretty dire conditions in western Kansas," said Bill Spiegel, spokesman for the industry group Kansas Wheat. "They have been in drought for three years now and this year the drought - from the time farmers planted last fall to the time they harvested - was just extremely dramatic."
The area from northwest to west-central Kansas fared the worst and is expected to bring in 53 percent of last year's crop. Southwest Kansas is doing only a little better than that, with this year's crop expected to be just 55 percent of the one cut last year.
Elsewhere in the state, farmers are faring better than last year.
"We got some dramatic yields in eastern Kansas," Spiegel said. "It is not a huge wheat-producing region, but ... those farmers there hit the perfect storm of good climate, good agronomic conditions and Mother Nature really cooperated with them. And they achieved some amazing yields."
The government estimated yields in southeast Kansas at 56 bushels an acre.
Spiegel, who compiles the industry group's daily harvest report, said he anticipated the actual yields will be even bigger than the government estimated.
From central to north-central Kansas, wheat production is estimated at 106 percent of the previous year, while farmers in east-central Kansas are hauling in crops that are 140 percent of what they took in a year ago. Producers in south-central Kansas, the state's largest wheat-growing area, are expected to bring in 95 percent of what they cut last year.