Wheat tour predicts record yield
DOYON, N.D. -- Brian Walker stood in a field of amber wheat and plucked a head from one of the knee-high plants. Quickly and efficiently, he rubbed the head between his hands to remove the kernels. Then he looked at the kernels with professional ...
DOYON, N.D. -- Brian Walker stood in a field of amber wheat and plucked a head from one of the knee-high plants. Quickly and efficiently, he rubbed the head between his hands to remove the kernels. Then he looked at the kernels with professional appreciation, the way a jeweler might admire a diamond that has just been cut successfully.
"That's good-looking wheat. It's a good-looking crop, too," says Walker, technical service manager with Miller Milling Co. in Bloomington, Minn.
Walker took part in the Wheat Quality Council's annual inspection tour of fields in North Dakota, northern South Dakota and northwest Minnesota. The tour, which began July 27 in Fargo and ended there July 30, affirmed what area agriculturalists already know: Wheat is thriving, thanks to excellent growing conditions so far this growing season. In fact, Upper Midwest spring wheat will yield a record 49.9 bushels per acre, surpassing the 48.6 bushels per acre last year, according to the wheat tour estimate released Thursday.
"It's a heck of a crop," says Ben Handcock, president of the Brighton, Colo.-based Wheat Quality Council, on Thursday.
As he notes, wheat, a cool-season grass, doesn't hold up well in mid-summer head. So the early start to planting this spring and the lack of prolonged stretches of scorching heat this summer has been ideal, or nearly so, for wheat.
Disease and adverse weather have hurt some fields, to be sure, but the the crop looks good overall.
The biggest concern now is lodging, or plants bent over by wind -- the condition can lead to harvest problems. Heavy winds in recent weeks have led to widespread reports of lodged wheat across the Upper Midwest.
"We definitely saw some lodging," Handcock says.
But farmers and others he talked with during the tour told him they should be able to harvest most of the lodged wheat, albeit more slowly than they could with plants that haven't lodged, he says.
"We've still got to get the wheat in the bin (harvest it). But we've got time to do it this year because they got an early start on planting," he says.
The region's wheat harvest will begin in early August and, if the weather cooperates, wrap up late in the month or in early September.
Still a force
Wheat is a big deal in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, where the soil and climate are well-suited to the crop. In North Dakota -- which leads the nation in wheat production -- farmers planted 7.65 million acres of wheat this spring, compared with 5.8 million acres of soybeans, the second-most-popular crop, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates released earlier this summer.
Wheat, once referred to as "King Wheat" in the Upper Midwest, isn't as common as it once was, with corn and soybeans becoming more popular. New, faster-maturing varieties that require less moisture allow corn and beans to grow in areas where that once were too risky.
"We saw a lot of corn and beans" during the tour, Walker says.
Still, most farmers in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota continue to grow wheat -- and a record wheat yield would put more money into farmers' pockets and their local economies.
The annual wheat tour is intended, in part, to help wheat industry employees learn more about Upper Midwest wheat. Many of this year's 66 participants -- who split up into small teams, each of which were assigned an area -- had limited firsthand knowledge of the region's wheat.
In contrast, Walker has been on 22 annual tours. Because of his experience, he led a team Thursday morning in Devils Lake, N.D.
Wheat is important to Miller Milling, which on its website describes itself as "one of the top four milling operations in the U.S." and a "full-service milling resource." And because North Dakota is a major player in wheat production, the quality and quantity of the state's wheat crop is important to Walker.
So he was pleased by what he saw on this year's tour.
"The crop still needs to be harvested. But it's looking good so far," he says.