“Better than expected, but not what we’d hoped for.”
This is what I heard when I asked Kansas farmers about this year’s wheat harvest. Still, with the little moisture received during the growing season, the 2018 wheat crop panned out better than most Kansas farmers thought it would.
Steve Boor, Lincoln County farmer wrapped up harvest June 30, two weeks after he began. The 2018 wheat harvest dragged on longer than usual because of the pesky showers that dropped a few hundredths of rain then disappeared. The rain resulted in harvest delays as Boor and other farmers waited for the crop to dry out.
In addition to the holdups, the veteran Lincoln County wheat producer says the quality varied, the yields varied – everything varied. The wheat looked much better going into the (combine) header than it did going into the bin.
“Just spots, spots and more spots,” Boor says. “We’d be cutting along and go through a thin spot and ask, ‘what happened here?’ It obviously wasn’t the drill, it wasn’t the sprayer — it just amazed me that a field of wheat could go from little, if any wheat to good, thick wheat so quickly.”
One of the challenges harvesters face in thin wheat is traveling fast enough to keep a steady mat of crop flowing through the combine. This is necessary to utilize the machine’s large threshing capacity.
Traveling at faster speeds to ensure efficient threshing sometimes presents its own inconveniences.
“Hitting a good-sized badger hole at those speeds can certainly jar your teeth,” Boor says.
Another sign of a stressed crop this harvest included a small percentage of stalks lodged too close to the ground to recover. Some instances of broken stalks showed up throughout this year’s harvest.
Wheat protein levels on the Lincoln County crop will likely range from the upper 12s to the lower 13s. Yields varied from approximately 50 bushels-per-acre on the river bottom ground in widely isolated small patches to the mid-30s on much of the 2018 crop.
“I’m sure the wheat lightened up a bit the longer we cut,” Boor says. “Still, I’m hoping the test weight hung tough at least about 59 pounds-per-bushel.”
Amazingly enough, this year’s wheat crop demonstrated its ever-enduring properties. It proved once again, wheat needs timely moisture to produce an abundant crop.
During the early period of the growing season after the first of the year, Boor wouldn’t have bet a “plug nickel” on even harvesting this year’s crop considering the lack of snow and rain.
“You cannot fault the wheat for not yielding more,” he says. “The crop just played the hand it was dealt and did the best it could.”
After talking with neighbors and other producers across Kansas, Boor believes the crop he harvested is like many others across the state.
“I didn’t see anyone tearing up the roads with trucks hauling wheat to the elevators,” he says. “I have yet to hear anyone pounding their chest and saying, ‘Look what we cut.’”
Needless to say, there probably will not be much double cropping beans behind this harvested wheat crop. With the lack of moisture in most places of the state, farmers aren’t ready to gamble on a second crop.
The Lincoln County farmer remains optimistic the fall crops will benefit from some timely rains. This would move the milo and beans a long way down the road to a better fall harvest.
“When you’re cutting a tough wheat crop, it’s nice to look across the field and see milo that looks really good,” Boor says. “We’re not home yet, but with a few good rains, I think we could harvest a decent fall crop.”
And for those few farmers still cutting wheat in the far northwestern region of Kansas?
“Say a prayer for those still trying to finish harvest,” he says. “Wish them luck.”
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.